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Minnesota Wild Coaching Candidates: Michel Therrien

With the coaching selection coming down to the wire, we continue to look at the names on the list, and ask those around us to better inform us about these potential coaches. Yesterday, we looked at Ken Hitchcock, in an essay by Matt Wagner from SBNation's Blue Jackets blog, The Cannon. In the comments, most Wild fans do not seem to enjoy the idea of Hitchcock, for a multitude of reasons.

Who Chuck Fletcher hires is ultimately not up to us, but we will certainly serve as the rowdy mob should he choose "incorrectly." 

Today, we move on to a new candidate, a man many Wild fans may not be familiar with at all, Michel Therrien, most recently of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a current part-time scout with the Wild.

We reached out to Kevin over at Hitting the Post, one of our favorite snarky Penguins fans. When asked to tell us about Therrien, Kevin responded with "A younger Jacques Lemaire. Complete with funny accent and all." 

He later expounded a bit more, giving us a better look at who Therrien was with the Penguins, and what it means to the Wild. His thoughts, after the jump.

One thing Wild fans fear is a return to Lemaire style hockey. A defense only manner of play that takes the offense and puts it on the back burner, only allowed to be a center of attention if it boils over. Yes, Todd Richards' teams scored fewer goals and allowed more than Jacques Lemaires. Don't fool yourself into thinking that means Lemaire enjoyed offense. It doesn't. It simply means Richards' system didn't work with the players he had, or couldn't get through to them. 

On the subject of defensive hockey, Kevin offered this:

Yes, Therrien is very much defense-oriented. He is basically a Jacques Lemaire clone, but I do think there is a big difference. Therrien doesn't pull in the reins of his offense when they're in the attacking zone, like what I believe Lemaire does. (Correct me if I'm wrong; I never willingly watch a Lemaire-coached team, but from what I gathered, a center isn't allowed to cross the blue line or something, right?) Therrien wants his team to adhere to a strict system and style of discipline when they're playing defense, but once you get the puck deep in the attacking zone, do what you want.

With the young talent the Wild have in the system right now, those players being allowed to be creative is going to be necessary. Granted, the back check is critical to winning hockey games, but so is scoring goals. If he allows the talent to use their skills in the offensive zone, so long as they don't forget about the defensive zone, I'm all for it. The center acting like a third d-man is what makes Lemaire style hockey boring. Making Mikko Koivu behave that way would greatly devalue him.

On success behind the bench, we get this from Kevin:

He is pretty much exactly what the Penguins needed when he took over in 2005, even though the team was still dreadful after he took over. That was mainly because he was a midseason replacement for the lovely Eddie Olczyk, who was completely in over his head as a NHL coach. Therrien had no training camp or time to teach the players his system, but once they dialed it down, boom. 207 points the next two seasons. He should've at least gotten a Stanley Cup bracelet for the work he put in.

I have to agree. A coach puts in that amount of effort, and then is let go, only to be snubbed when the rings are handed out? I get it, but I don't like it. 207 points would be equivalent to two and a half season for the Wild. We'll take 207 points. 

Where Kevin really piques my interest is with this:

The Penguins were an undisciplined bunch of hacks who had no idea how to keep the puck out of their net under Edzo. Therrien changed that philosophy real quick. I happen to believe that Therrien's arrival also helped Sergei Gonchar wipe off that three-month title of "worst free agent signing ever." Gonchar was completely lost under Olczyk, but once Therrien implemented his structured system, Gonchar began to flourish.

Therrien's style really showed in the 2008 playoffs. Once the Penguins got a lead in the third period, they kept that lead. The way the Penguins played, keeping opponents hemmed behind the red line for minutes at a time, was truly impressive. No one in the East stood a chance against that.

Sound like a team anyone else knows? Defensemen that look lost? No idea how to keep the puck out of their net? Sounds rather familiar. And if the Wild could even get the puck out of their own zone it would be impressive, let alone to keep the other side hemmed in theirs. 

Why was Therrien let go, if he was having so much success? Well, in 2009, the Penguins weren't having much success. Thus he was let go, in favor of Dan Bylsma (would have been Todd Richards if T-Rich hadn't left for San Jose). Bylsma won the Stanley Cup, and cemented the release of Therrien as a brilliant move. Kevin disagrees, to a point. 

I think Therrien became something of a scapegoat and wasn't given a full chance in 2009. The Penguins didn't have Gonchar or Ryan Whitney, and Whitney (who really was a scapegoat; it's weird, I hated Whitney when no one else did, but that season, everyone else started to hate him and I changed, but that's a different topic) was less than full-strength when he did return for Therrien. It was unfortunate that Therrien had to keep playing Whitney, because that helped lead to the team's 10th place showing in January. Though I still don't know what the hell happened that season. The Penguins started off at a Presidents' Trophy pace and then fell through the floor.

So, it all comes down to this. Would Therrien be a good fit for the Wild?

Therrien, like Lemaire, would/should be very good for an expansion/young team. You know if a team plays defense well enough, it can scrape out enough goals to win games. Therrien can teach a team how to do that.

I'm not sure, however, if Therrien is capable of that "next step." It's folly to say the change to Dan Bylsma had no effect on Pittsburgh winning the Cup in 2009. It had a huge effect because Bylsma is still more of an attacker than Therrien. But Therrien, with not a great deal of lineup turnover, turned the Penguins from the worst team in the league to one that was two wins from the Stanley Cup. And he did it in less than three full seasons. He had at least as big a role in the team becoming a champion as Bylsma did. If Therrien had the roster Bylsma had (healthy Gonchar, no Whitney, add Kunitz and Guerin) then he might still be coaching here.

Or, perhaps more likely, since he is that kind of disciplined, heavy-handed coach, the players started to tune him out and a change had to be made. I think Therrien's shelf life for a team is only a handful of seasons because he's not really a player's coach.

Sounds to me like the ultimate answer is no, unless Chuck Fletcher is looking for an interim head coach, to get the Wild over that first hurdle, and make them competitive and disciplined. Then, after that mission is accomplished, dump him for a "winner." I don't see that happening. I see Fletcher as a "this is my guy" type of guy, and is not the type to play chess with people's lives. The coach he hires is the man to take the Wild all the way. At least... that's the plan.

Therrien scares me a bit, but seems to be a bit easier to deal with than Hitchccok. Therrien dealt with big personalities, and big talent in Pittsburgh. He developed young talent, and made them NHL players. However, he is Jacques Lemaire, and it doesn't seem anyone is keen on the Lemaire era returning.