By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2005
The fact that the Penguins fired coach Ed Olczyk last week was no surprise. That he was hired in the first place was the real shocker.
Other than his son's youth team, Olczyk had no coaching experience before being hired prior to the 2003-04 season. Olczyk went 23-47-8-4 in 2003-04 and finally got the pink slip after an 8-17-6 start this season. The Pens haven't won back-to-back games all season and were one of three teams entering the weekend in single digits in victories.
The Pens brought in a bunch of high-priced free agents - Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy - to go along with franchise kid Sidney Crosby and the results were horrible under the easygoing Olczyk. Now they'll try it under no-nonsense coach Michel Therrien.
"Basically, he's a hard (guy)," Recchi said. "Guys had an opportunity to play well for a coach that is very passionate and cares a lot about his players in (Olczyk) and we didn't. Now they're going to see what it's like to play under a guy who demands discipline and demands structure. The ball's in our court now."
Part-owner and player Mario Lemieux doesn't know how the team will react to Therrien.
"We'll see," Lemieux said. "They don't have a choice. He is very tough on the players and if you don't do the job you're not going to be here. Either you do this job or play somewhere else."
One final thought. When is general manager Craig Patrick going to be held responsible for Pittsburgh's mess? He was masterful in building the Penguins into a Stanley Cup champion, but their last Cup was in 1992.
Several of his coaching choices (Olczyk, Ivan Hlinka, Rick Kehoe) have turned out to be duds. Too many top draft picks haven't panned out. They haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and the future, even with Crosby, looks bleak because of all the long-term contracts for players obviously past their prime.
All that came on Patrick's watch.
GOALIE GUESSES: It will be interesting to see which three goalies Team Canada selects Wednesday for the Olympics. It has six strong candidates: New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, Phoenix's Curtis Joseph, Dallas' Marty Turco, Florida's Roberto Luongo, Toronto's Ed Belfour and Montreal's Jose Theodore. It was thought that Brodeur and Luongo were locks, but Luongo's play this season (11-14-4, 3.25 GAA as of Friday) might have cost him a spot.
Hockey analyst Gary Green said, "It should be Brodeur, Cujo and Turco. The criteria is not just what you did before (this season), but how you played the first half of this season. Roberto is a very treasured member of Team Canada, but he has to fall into the caliber of guys who have not played well enough this fall to make it."
Florida coach Jacques Martin, an assistant with Team Canada, said he has been lobbying for Luongo and feels that Luongo's .909 save percentage, which is better than the other candidates except Joseph, is proof that he deserves to be there.
BUFFALO SHUFFLE: No team in the NHL is hotter than the Sabres (12-1-1 in the past 14 entering the weekend) and the emphasis is on team. Its leading scorer, Tim Connolly, was 84th in the league in scoring as of last week. The key has been goalie Martin Biron, who had won 11 straight coming into the weekend. "He has been a rock for us back there," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "He's a big reason - maybe the reason - we're on such a roll."
GOALIE BLUES: St. Louis GM Larry Pleau has a sharp hockey mind, but his choices for goalies have been abysmal. Last week, the Blues waived Patrick Lalime, the latest in a line of goalies who bombed after being picked to lead the Blues. The list includes Roman Turek, Chris Osgood, Brent Johnson and Fred Brathwaite.
"You point the finger at me ... that's who you point the finger at," Pleau said. "I'm the one who's responsible for that. One person. That's me. In nine years, I haven't done it. If there's one thing that I'm unhappy with myself, I haven't been able to bring the goaltender in that's made a difference."
ROUGH NEIGHBORHOOD: If the playoffs had started this weekend, four teams from the Northwest Division (Vancouver, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton) would have made the postseason.
"The toughest division in hockey," Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's tough. You look at how close every game is that we play in our division, it just tells you how good the teams are."
By the way, four teams from the Northeast (Ottawa, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto) would have made the playoffs if they had started this weekend, too.
ICE CHIPS: If the Islanders fall out of the playoff hunt in the second half, they might deal forward Mark Parrish. He's an unrestricted free agent next summer and it has always been thought that he would like to play in his home state of Minnesota. ... The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Blues owners Bill and Nancy Laurie are in negotiations with New-York based MatlinPatterson Global Advisers to sell the team and the Savvis Center lease. ... Now that Ty Conklin is back, the Oilers have three goalies. The odd man out will be Mike Morrison. He's 5-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average, but he is the only one of the three who can be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers.
Information from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Palm Beach Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Calgary Herald was used in this report.