PITTSBURGH -- Eddie Olczyk was fired Thursday as the coach
of the fast-fading Pittsburgh Penguins following one of the most
disappointing starts in franchise history and replaced by former
Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
Olczyk, a former team broadcaster and player who had no coaching
experience at any level before being hired in 2003, was let go
following a run of eight losses in nine games that dropped the
Penguins' record to an Eastern Conference-worst 8-17-6.
Only St. Louis (6-17-4) has fewer wins in the NHL, and general
manager Craig Patrick decided to fire Olczyk after a string of
dismally played losses in the last week.
Patrick said it became obvious during a 5-0 loss to Minnesota
last Thursday that the players were tuning Olczyk out and no longer
respected him, and the situation got only worse during losses to
Detroit (3-1) on Monday and St. Louis (3-0) on Tuesday.
"The Minnesota loss was very disturbing -- the team had shown
its face and for whatever reason they weren't listening," Patrick
But Patrick also faulted himself and the players, and he
acknowledged the blend of newer players such as super prospect
Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and old-line stars
such as John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy and
Jocelyn Thibault wasn't working. He promised more changes if there
isn't a fast turnaround under Therrien.
"I can't say why," Patrick said when asked why the players
didn't respond to Olczyk. "But we're going to find a solution."
The 39-year-old Olczyk is the first NHL coach to be fired since
the league resumed play following a one-season labor impasse.
Therrien, who coached the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm
club to a 21-1-2-1 record that represents the best start in AHL
history, ran Penguins practice Thursday and will coach his first
NHL game since the 2002-03 season Friday night against Buffalo. He
was 77-77-13-13 as Montreal's coach from 2000-03.
The 42-year-old Therrien will bring a much more disciplined
approach to a team that has been criticized for its lazy work
habits and inability to stick to a system. He emphasizes
controlling the puck and creating turnovers in the transition game,
and doesn't hesitate to call out players when they're not
"He's a no-nonsense guy and it's either his way or you don't
play -- and from what I see, we definitely need that," Patrick
The Penguins were a league-worst 23-47-8-4 during Olczyk's first
season as coach in 2003-04, including an 18-game losing streak. But
the pressure on Olczyk to begin winning increased when the Penguins
won the NHL draft lottery in July and chose Crosby, considered
Canada's best prospect since Penguins owner-player Mario Lemieux.
But the Penguins got off to a terrible start by losing their
first nine games. Lemieux also had another medical setback, being
diagnosed last week with a heart disorder. Crosby has averaged a
point a game but also has been slumping with only one goal in eight
"We look pretty on paper, but what are we? What are we?"
Patrick said. "I don't know, but we're going to find out."
This is the fourth time Patrick has fired a coach during the
Therrien replaced Alain Vigneault as Montreal's coach on Nov.
20, 2000 but was fired and replaced by Claude Julien on Jan. 17,
Penguins assistant coaches Joe Mullen and Randy Hillier also
were fired, as were goaltending coach Shane Clifford and strength
coach John Welday. Therrien brought his Wilkes-Barre staff with him
-- assistant Mike Yeo, strength coach Stephane Dube and goaltending
consultant Gilles Lefebvre.