Lacing Up with Ash and Stoosh - 23.03.09
Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.
Stoosh: On Valentine’s Day and in the glaring spotlight of a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, the Penguins dropped a 6-2 game at Toronto. The game was marred mostly by sloppy and uninspired play on the part of the visiting team, and the loss left them 27-25-5. At that time, their 59 points found them 11th in the conference, five points out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
The following day, head coach Michel Therrien was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Dan Bylsma, who had been head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Therrien was less than a year removed from coaching the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Since that point, the Pens have gone 9-1-1 under Bylsma and they’ve taken 19 of 22 available points. This run now finds thwm with 78 points heading into the March 12 game with Columbus, good for 6th in the Eastern Conference and only four points behind 4th place Philadelphia. What’s more, they seem to be playing sharper, more inspired hockey.
The Therrien firing preceded two other high-profile firings of coaches whose teams were well within playoff contention. About a week after Therrien was let go, the Rangers fired head coach Tom Renney despite having taken the team to three straight playoff appearances. On March 9, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau was fired, this despite a career record of 124-83-23 and being less than a season removed from coaching the Canadiens to the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08.
The Rangers haven’t quite seen the same immediate turnaround as the Pens and it’s still too early to tell for the Canadiens, but what were your opinions of these changes? Had players just tuned these guys out, or were these panic moves by general managers trying to make sure their own jobs were safe?
Ash: I always thought it was unusual to fire a coach mid-season when you are still in a playoff position, but I perhaps it’s not entirely surprising if the team in question appears to be playing for a lottery pick.
Panic move? I think that may be at least partially right for these guys.
I think Bob Gainey’s coaching change in Montreal can be classified as a panic move. The Habs haven’t been completely horrible this season – after all, they are still in a playoff position – but they have had an extended rough patch. Montreal is such a pressure-cooker for hockey as-is, but this season is even more stressful for the organization because it is THE season. With the 100th season festivities going on, and the emergence of Carey Price last year, the fans expect a Stanley Cup parade in June. The expectations truly are unfair, but it is how it is and Gainey simply could not let his team slip out of the top 8 and fail to make the playoffs in its 100th season. Gainey saw a team that was not responding to Carbo and he felt the need to interfere. He started by sending Kovalev home for a few days, and now he is taking everything into his own hands.
Now, these GMs who fire their coaches are likely doing so in order to save their own jobs (although I don’t think the Rangers would ever think of firing Glen Sather, no matter how many boneheaded signings he makes). They also know whether a team has completely tuned out its coach. Perhaps the right move is to get rid of the coach in the hopes of salvaging a season that was destined to be lost, because you never know when the new guy will take the team from worst to first.
I think the Penguins’ woes came partly due to injury and partly due to Michel Therrien’s coaching style. A new system, a few new faces, and a few returning faces seemed to do the trick, but I’m not yet sure it’s enough (although I am more optimistic now than I was on February 14th).
On the other hand, the Rangers and Canadiens have deeper problems than injury and coaching. I think that there’s something going on in those locker rooms. It’s something that’s bringing the whole team down, and a change in head coaches will not likely fix everything.