Penguins axe coach Michel Therrien
The Michel Therrien era in Pittsburgh is over.
Less than a year after he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals, Therrien was fired as the team's head coach on Sunday night.
Dan Bylsma, coach of Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, was named Therrien's replacement on an interim basis and will be behind the bench Monday when the Penguins visit the New York Islanders.
"I didn't like... the direction the team was headed," Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero said on a conference call. "I've watched for a number of weeks and, at the end of the day, the direction is not what I wanted to have here. I wasn't comfortable, and that's why the change was made."
Sunday's move comes a day after the Penguins suffered an embarrassing 6-2 loss in Toronto on Saturday night, a game that saw the Maple Leafs score four third-period goals.
Asked how much the Penguins collapse entered into the decision to fire Therrien, Shero said, "It wasn't so much the outcome, it was how the game was played."
Therrien was hired by the Penguins in December 2005 and helped to turn around a faltering team that had failed to qualify for the playoffs for three consecutive seasons into a contender that earned its first Stanley Cup finals berth since 1991-92.
The Penguins recorded 102 points last season, their second straight 100-point campaign, and won their first division title since 1997-98 as Therrien guided them to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.
Therrien was a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy, awarded to the NHL's coach of the year, in 2006-07 after the Penguins improved by 47 points over the previous season.
But even with two of the league's top stars in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are struggling this season. With a 27-25-5 record, Pittsburgh currently sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot.
"I'm not sure where it went wrong, to be honest," Shero said. "It's been a tough year. We're all disappointed with the results, and our expectations were higher."
Bylsma, 38, played nine NHL seasons as a right-winger with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks from 1995-2004.
He said the Penguins, who played a tight defensive style under Therrien, need to get back to being a fast, offensive-driven team.
"With the strengths we have, we should be able to go into buildings and make teams deal with the quality of players we have at every position," Bylsma said. "I look at a group that can win games right now, and we need to do that. We can do this, but the players have to believe we can do this."
With 25 games left on the schedule, both Shero and Bylsma said the immediate goal is to save the season and make the playoffs. After that, a decision on next season's coach will be made, Shero said.
"I'm looking to these players and myself to help us go in the right direction again and start building something again and make us feel good about ourselves," Shero said. "It's been an uphill battle — Sergei Gonchar getting injured, Ryan Whitney's foot operation — but this is a resilient group, and that's what I'm looking for, to rally the troops and make progress and make a push."
Therrien becomes the fifth NHL coach to be fired this season, joining Peter Laviolette (Carolina Hurricanes), Denis Savard (Chicago Blackhawks), Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa Senators) and Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay Lightning).
He parts company with the Penguins seven months after signing a contract worth roughly $1 million US per season that runs through 2010-11.
The Penguins reassigned assistant coach Andre Savard within the organization, and Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' director of player development, joined the staff as an assistant coach. Assistant coach Mike Yeo and goaltending coach Gilles Meloche remain with the team.
With files from the Canadian Press