Fifty-seven games into the 2008-09 NHL season, the talent rich Pittsburgh Penguins were struggling with a 27-25-5 record. To add to the humiliation, the Pens had just been throttled by the sickly Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2.
Sensing the need to revitalize a team which had come into the season with astronomic hopes, Penguins management replaced head coach Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma, who would lead the team on a torrid 18-3-4 charge to close out the season.
Continuing their momentum into the postseason, the Pens would go on to ice the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup since 1992. Detroit were the defending champs, having beaten Pittsburgh in a six game finals the previous season.
It has been almost four years since Therrien has coached a league game; and with another pesky lockout dragging out, who knows when he will coach his next one? When Therrien was hired by the Habs in June 2012 for a second go-round with the team, he probably did not think his NHL coaching drought would extend into the New Year.
Understandably, Therrien being reinstated behind the Montreal Canadiens bench was met with lukewarm skepticism by a fan base which, more often than not, bristles at any news regarding the team. Some stated rather cynically it took newly hired Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin only six weeks to make his first big mistake on the job. Ouch!
Being a native Quebecer, Bergevin certainly realizes working in the Habs front office requires being able to absorb a few hip checks…and body checks…and stick checks…etc…etc… Although a bit on the harsh side, the criticism levied against Therrien may be justified to some extent when one looks at his past performance in his native city.
During three seasons with the Hab hockeyists, Therrien failed to elevate the club higher than just a fourth place finish in their division. After being canned midway through the 2002-03 season, Therrien had notched a very pedestrian 77-77-23 career record, which does not cut the French’s mustard in La Belle Province.
Even Therrien’s most ardent critics (reportedly, he made a few enemies during his last shindig) should end up cutting him some slack, since he did enjoy a measure of success in Pittsburgh. Let’s be honest: the team which won the Cup after he was terminated was basically his team for four years.
Another extremely sensible reason for the Habs to reunite with Therrien is his past experience with tutoring Penguins superstars C Sidney Crosby and C Evgeni Malkin. Therrien coached Crosby for his first four seasons (and Malkin his first three), where Crosby failed to reach the 100 point mark only once (2007-08) due to missing 29 games. As for Malkin, he is widely considered as one of the top five front liners in the league.
Considering his past success with breaking Crosby and Malkin into the league, Therrien should make a very good mentor for Canadiens top prospect C Alex Galchenyuk, who is once again tearing it up with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. Most importantly, Galchenyuk has shown absolutely no rust, nor any timidness after sustaining a severe knee injury the previous season.
In fact, the Habs are so anxious to see what Galchenyuk can do in the big time that Bergevin recently stated he would be willing to bring Galchenyuk in for a tryout in an abbreviated NHL training camp. Galchenyuk will be playing for the new-look team USA in the World Junior Championships in Russia.
Even though he has been re-hired by the Habs, Therrein is once again sitting left wondering when he will get his chance to coach another NHL game. I do not know which is worse: not having an NHL coaching job and looking for work or having an NHL coaching job and not having any work.
Hopefully, Montreal fans and everyone else will soon find out how a Therrien/Galchenyuk union will play out. If it is anything like the Therrien/Crosby days in the Steel City, Therrien will not have to worry about job security anytime soon.