Eddie Olczyk, expected to win immediately after being given a much more accomplished team to coach, was fired yesterday as the coach of the fast-fading Pittsburgh Penguins 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 after 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 dismally played 3-0 loss to the Blues on Tuesday night in which the Penguins did little to support an excellent game by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Olczyk, 39, is the first NHL coach to be fired since the league resumed play after a one-season labor impasse and the fourth Penguins coach to lose his job in six seasons, joining Kevin Constantine, the late Ivan Hlinka and Rick Kehoe.
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, was to run the team's practice yesterday and coach his first NHL game since the 2002-03 season tonight against Buffalo. He was 77-77-13-13 as Montreal's coach from 2000 to '03.
Therrien, 42, is expected to 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.
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 that would be an NHL record except that one loss came in overtime. But the pressure on Olczyk to begin winning increased when the Penguins won the NHL draft lottery in July and chose 18-year-old Sidney Crosby, considered Canada's best prospect since Penguins owner-player Mario Lemieux.
Salary cap -- The salary cap for NHL teams will rise next season, from the current $39 million to between $40 million and $45 million, commissioner Gary Bettman said at the end of a two-day meeting with owners in Scottsdale, Ariz. Bettman projected overall revenues of just over $2 billion.
On the ice
Stars 2, Senators 0 -- Marty Turco earned his second shutout of the season, and Brenden Morrow scored his 10th goal and assisted on Jere Lehtinen's 17th, leading visiting Dallas. Ottawa, which entered with the most goals in the NHL (124) and the fewest allowed (59), was shut out for the second time this month and lost for just the third time in 15 home games.
Panthers 3, Red Wings 2 -- Olli Jokinen scored a power-play goal 1:36 into overtime, pushing host Florida to its first win over Detroit since Dec. 1, 1996. Gary Roberts and Rastislav Olesz also scored for the Panthers, who have won four of five at home.
Canucks 5, Flyers 4 -- Anson Carter scored twice in the third period to lead visiting Vancouver to its fourth straight win. Philadelphia had won two in a row.
Bruins 3, Wild 2 -- Marco Sturm scored his fourth goal in six games since coming to Boston and gave the visiting Bruins their first win over Minnesota.
Thrashers 3, Devils 2 -- Marc Savard scored a power-play goal with five seconds left in overtime and visiting Atlanta sent New Jersey to its fifth loss in six games.
Hurricanes 2, Blue Jackets 1 -- Rod Brind'Amour scored twice and Martin Gerber made 25 saves to give host Carolina consecutive home wins for the first time since early November.
Predators 5, Blackhawks 3 -- Pekka Rinne stopped 35 shots in his NHL debut as host Nashville beat Chicago. Rinne is the fourth goaltender used by the Predators this season.
Lightning 3, Coyotes 1 -- Vincent Lecavalier netted a short-handed goal, and Fredrik Modin also scored to lead visiting Tampa Bay, which won for the 11th time in 14 games. Sean Burke made 26 saves against his former team for his fourth win in seven starts.
Oilers 5, Canadiens 3 -- Ethan Moreau's power-play goal with 1:23 left in the third led host Edmonton, which plays eight of its next 11 games at home.