Michel Therrien's road to becoming a legitimate Jack Adams Award candidate began under the bleakest of circumstances.
It was midway through last season and the Penguins had just lost 3-1 to the Edmonton Oilers, dropping their 16th game in their past 20, and Therrien had seen enough.
He opened the floodgates with one of the most quality rants in the history of hockey. "I'm really starting to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league," he said at the time, "and they're doing such a great job at being the worst."
He went on to say that only about half his team cared and then blasted them with, "They pretend to care, but I know they don't care. I'm so disappointed about a lot of guys, very disappointed, because they don't care."
Many chalked it up to another one of Therrien's emotional outbursts. After all, he's had a few in his time. But it was actually a well-prepared, calculated move that Therrien made, one he credits for turning the Penguins from laughingstock to formidable foe.
"I had to make an impact," Therrien said, "and if you want to rebuild something, it's better to break it down and start all over. I was not a popular guy the next day, but it was then that we started to look like a team."
Under Therrien's guidance, the Penguins certainly looked like a team this season, improving from 58 points to 105 and while an embarrassment of talent had a lot to do with it, Therrien was not afraid to push his players to be better, more dedicated and more demanding of themselves. And though his team bowed out in five games to the Ottawa Senators in the first round, this season has to be considered a success after many picked them to once again miss the playoffs.
"Last year, the commitment was not there, the work ethic was not there and the conditioning was not there," said Therrien, who was named The Hockey News' coach of the year in late April. "A lot of things were not where they were supposed to be and we needed to change that."
There is little doubt the 43-year-old single father of two has matured since his younger days as a coach. He is still as emotional, but has learned to manage them better and not become a distraction. He has also smoothed many of his rough edges.
"I think he has done a great job of changing people's perceptions of him," said Penguins GM Ray Shero. "I have not seen the combustible Michel Therrien people talk about."
MOVE OVER, DOLLAR BILL: In a recent interview with The Toronto Star, Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz warned that he'll sell his team if the NHL Players' Association installs another Bob Goodenow-type militant as its executive director.
If that doesn't have everyone in the industry racing to knock down Donald Fehr's door, it should. Having Wirtz relinquish his iron grip on the Blackhawks would be the best thing that could happen for the league.
LaFONTAINE SPEAKS: Former NHL star Pat LaFontaine has long been critical of the league's lack of direction when it comes to blows to the head. LaFontaine's career ended in 1998 when a concussion caused by a collision with teammate Mike Keane prompted doctors to force him to retire.
It was LaFontaine's sixth concussion in seven seasons, several of which were caused by blows to the head.
Â“The players owe the league a lot,Â” LaFontaine said, Â“but the league owes the players the right to walk away from the game with a decent quality of life.Â”
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