The Pittsburgh Penguins signed a 3-year deal on Friday with Coach Michel Therrien reportedly worth $1M annually. The contract, which runs through the 2010-2011 season, replaces his existing contract that would have run out in 2009 and would have paid him $750K next season. The 33% raise and 3-year term signify the organization’s confidence in Therrien after he coached the very talented young team to an exceptional 94-51-19 record over the past 2 seasons.
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Coach Therrien’s strength lies in his ability to shape and motivate young players, something that the Penguins have an ample supply of. Therrien got his start in hockey as a defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he played under Coach Jacques Lemaire for the Longueuil Chevaliers. Therrien was a solid player, putting up 51-points in 64-games in 1982-83. Therrien hung up his skates in 1989 and went to work for Bell Canada. A year later, he took a brief side-job as part-time assistant to Laval coach Jean-Maurice Cool. After Cool was fired, Therrien was picked up again as an assitant under Bob Hartley, and they went on to win the QMJHL title in 1993. When Hartley left before the 1993-94 season, Therrien was promoted to head coach. Therrien won over 70-percent of his games in junior, where players range in age from 16 to 20. Therrien then left Laval for Granby and coached the team to the 1996 Memorial Cup. After a successful rise through the minors, Therrien won his dream job on 20 November 2000 when he was hired by the Montreal Canadiens to replace Alain Vigneault. In his first full season he led a mediocre Canadiens team past the top-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round. However, in the second round against Carolina, Therrien drew a bench minor for arguing a penalty call by referee Kerry Fraser and it turned the series around. The Canadiens, who were leading the series 2-1 and were ahead 3-0 early in the third period when the penalty was called, lost the game and then were soundly defeated in the next two games. Therrien was let go in the following season, and re-entered the minors where he coached the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team for 2.5-years, where they went to the Calder Cup finals twice.
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In 2006-07, Therrien led the Penguins to the fourth-biggest turnaround in NHL history and their first playoff berth in years. After losing to the Ottawa Senators in game 5 of the first round, the Penguins came back in 2007-08, finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference, and swept the Senators in round 1 by outscoring them 16-5. The Penguins went on to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1993. Coach Therrien has a record of demanding a lot from his young players, and for rewarding performance. In the process, he has created some rifts with more veteran players on the team, including John LeClair who was stripped of his alternate Captaincy and ultimately requested his contract with the team be dissolved. A similar falling out happened with Mark Recchi after his performance fell off. But nobody can argue the results that the team has produced under his tenure, particularly this past season when the team overcame the adversity of extended injuries to several of its top players.
The lingering question remains whether Therrien, who some felt was outcoached in the Stanley Cup Finals, has the coaching skills to bring the Cup home. He certainly has given the management and owners of the Penguins organization no reasons to doubt his ability to produce results. They have responded by giving Therrien a nice raise and extension of his tenure in Pittsburgh. In fact, if Therrien makes it through all of next season, he will become the longest-tenured coach in franchise history with 297 games.