You and I agree: Pens' Therrien deserves notice

2/12/2007 - NHL

This column is, above all, a community.

I write, you react, and I counter, and so on. So far, it's been a six-year conversation. I've always believed, even before I started this column, that independent, open-minded groupthink is more intelligent and smarter than any individual thought.

If you've ever watched me on "SportsCenter" over the last 10-plus years (the "giant head" co-anchor), you've heard me introduce the SportsNation poll question with the disclaimer, "We want to hear what you think because you are always right." Or something to that effect.

This is all before I discovered a book titled, "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations" by James Surowiecki. I know nothing else about this book. While I would enjoy the book, reading it is probably unnecessary since I'm already convinced the premise is true. I don't need convincing. I don't really need to know why. I don't care about the inner workings of my can opener -- I just want my tuna.

I'd rather read your e-mails on Loob, Ken the Otter, backyard rinks and the rebirth brought on by every fresh sheet of ice. I imagine I will eventually read "The Wisdom of Crowds." I'll need something to impress Kelly Monaco.

The above somewhat explains why this week's column is an e-mail bag alone. You sometimes provide so many thought-provoking e-mails, the column writes itself.

With help from me and you.


Do you think there's a lack of respect for Michel Therrien? He's had to deal with rumors of being on the "hot seat," which were just absurd to begin with, and now doesn't receive nearly enough credit for where the Pens are this season. He's done an amazing job with the Penguins and I don't think anybody would've expected them to be where he has them today. How long before he starts getting mentioned for the Jack Adams Award? Or doesn't he?

Craig Wills
Clarks Summit, Pa.

Choosing coach of the year candidates is as maddening as watching Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell in the 1995 movie "Mad Love," a movie that caused me so much pain and anger and frustration, I nearly took my own life in the winter of 1996. As the credits rolled, I would have eaten seven handfuls of shark chum to get back those 105 minutes of my life. That night haunts me to this day.

I believe Michel Therrien, Lindy Ruff, Claude Julien, Bob Hartley, Barry Trotz, Randy Carlyle, Mike Babcock and Ron Wilson are currently the NHL's top eight coaches. My final five would be Ruff, Carlyle, Trotz, Babcock and Therrien. One of those five will win the Jack Adams Award. Trotz continues to produce teams that move well away from the puck no matter what new pieces are handed to him. Buffalo, Anaheim and Detroit are also great puck-possession teams. If you can't do that in today's game, you will have trouble generating offense. Yes, it's easier for more talented teams to do this, but you have to give the coaching staffs some credit.

Therrien's bunch doesn't have what Buffalo, Detroit, Anaheim and Nashville have. Therrien has absolutely sick talent in Pittsburgh, but that talent is incredibly young. Therrien's coaching of Sidney Crosby has been impeccable, making No. 87 the focal point from the get-go and slapping a letter on his upper left pectoral muscle. Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have been woven into the lineup with aplomb. Staal is on the ice in the game's late minutes, having earned trust through intelligent positional play. Therrien has given Staal the confidence of a veteran, making the Penguins a much deeper team.

To me, Staal is now at the top of the Rookie of the Year class. He has produced offense despite playing minimal minutes, averaging six fewer minutes per game than the Kings' Anze Kopitar and five fewer than Malkin. Malkin and Kopitar have had ample power-play time compared to Staal, boosting their overall points totals. However, Staal's meaningful minutes, defensive acumen, offensive production and shot-blocking grit make him the rookie with the largest impact. He is a factor on every inch of the ice and he won't turn 19 until Sept. 10.

Malkin and Kopitar are breathtaking players. But, right now, Staal is what coaches call a "safe" player. He plays smart, doesn't take dumb penalties and can be counted on to give a gritty, consistent effort. Last April, I wrote this while looking ahead to the 2006 draft: "I would select Jordan Staal with the No. 1 pick. A big center that just looks and sounds like a Blue."

Today, Staal just looks and sounds like a star.

Back to Therrien. Yes, he inherited once-in-a-lifetime talent, but Therrien has helped mold a clear-cut playoff team. Barring injury, the Penguins are in. They need to give Marc-Andre Fleury some more time off. They need to add a defenseman or three. But this team can skate and score, and boasts a top-level goalie.

I wrote this on the Penguins in my annual season preview: "The Penguins are going to be much better than last season. They will win more than 10 road games and my heart tells me they can make a major jump."

I didn't have the stones to pick the Pens for the playoffs, making the above comment a little shallow. All the more reason Therrien is a coach of the year candidate. He has helped the Penguins elevate their play and exceed expectations, individually and collectively, and that is really a coach's only job.


It's certainly a possibility that we'll see the Art Ross, Hart, and Calder Trophies in Pittsburgh this year, but what are the chances the Pens bring home the real hardware? Not to indulge in hyperbole, but this recent streak has to make them a contender, right?


As stated above, the Penguins are clearly a playoff team. History tells us they will be susceptible to wear and tear, especially Marc-Andre Fleury. The inexperience factor will likely come into play at some point. They have to add a couple of playoff-tested assets. The odds on them winning a playoff series are better than 50-50. I would think it would be less than 50-50 to win two playoff series.


You're deserted on a frozen pond in the middle of nowhere with Kelly Monaco, a hockey player from any era, a CD (or record) and an ESPN personality. Who/what are your choices?


The player has to be a goalie so I have someone to shoot on. I'm taking Gump Worsley. The CD should be fun and loud, something that goes well with outdoor skating. I'll take Van Halen's "1984." "Jump" always makes me skate faster. I'll take the late, great Tom Mees to call all of the action as I go five-hole on the late, great Gumper. Sounds like heaven.

Mr. Buccigross,

I know the first outdoor game played in the NHL was very successful. Montreal and Edmonton skated in front of an audience of over 57,000 people. Where would you like to see the next NHL outdoor game?

Also, the Frozen Four is scheduled to be played at Ford Field in 2010. Do you expect more Division I and/or NHL hockey to be played inside football stadiums before this time? If so, where?


I would like to see the next outdoor game played in either of these three stadiums: Fenway Park (Bruins hosting Penguins) or Yankee Stadium (Rangers hosting Penguins) or Lambeau Field (Red Wings and Wild).

I am not excited about the Frozen Four being held at Ford Field. It is too large of a venue. I think that is a bad trend by the NCAA, if it is indeed going to become a trend. Would you rather see a Blink 182 reunion tour in 2010 in a football stadium or at a local, comfy playhouse theater?


Now that Rick DiPietro has only 14.5 years left on his contract (try not to laugh too hard), I want to know what you think of him as a player now. What type of goalie do you think he'll mature into? It seems to me he is a better-than-average goaltender, not a great one. Can he become a great goalie we can ride in the playoffs?

Joe Traietta
Lindenhurst, N.Y.

I wrote this in the preseason:

"Am I the only guy in the world who doesn't think the Rick DiPietro signing was outlandish? (Booming, Michael Clarke Duncan voice from above: 'Yes, John, you are.') If DiPietro becomes a top-five goalie, it's a great deal for the Islanders. If he becomes a top-10 goalie, it's about right. Goalies can play for a long time. I think it's a worse deal for DiPietro. He could end up costing himself lots of money and he has potentially cost himself something much more in value: Freedom of movement."

The Islanders need high-end defensive help and more speed and creativity up front. I get a sense of calm on the Island, a quiet confidence that they will figure this out and keep getting better.


Who's the next commish if Bettman's contract is not renewed? (If they do a fan vote, I'll head up the campaign for you!)

Andrew Nevins
Birmingham, Ala.

As most of you probably already know, Gary Bettman is at least signed through the current collective-bargaining agreement, which runs through 2011.

Hey Bucci,

This is a two-part question.

1) Do you think that NASCAR is that much more popular than hockey? I think ESPN just pushes it more on the public.

2) What do you think about Messier being Rangers GM? Do you think he'd be good, better than Sather?

P.S.: I'm surprised the guys on "PTI" brought that up and even knew who Sather was.

Jeremy Rom
New York

1) NASCAR is well-attended and receives very good ratings. It is also attracting a wide variety of people as investors and sponsors. It's the real deal.

2) The primary job of a GM is evaluating talent. We won't know how Messier stacks up in that department until we see him sign, draft and trade for players.


I would like to make an addition to your list of rule changes. Eliminate the point for losing in the shootout or overtime. When the NHL decided to do away with ties, why on earth did they continue to reward teams for losing? Doesn't giving a point for losing simply reward mediocrity, not to mention confuse the casual fan?

Matt Johns
Windsor, Ontario
Go Leafs!

It keeps more teams in playoff races and helps ticket sales. That ain't changing anytime soon.


It's unreal cold here in Tiffin, Ohio, this week. On the upside, however, there is a new sports bar in town that is offering beer delivery and late-night breakfast until 6 in the morning after last call. How clutch is that? I'll keep an eye on Tiffin and eat a bag of Ballreich's for you.

Take it easy,
Eric Guindon
Sports Editor, The Kilikilik

This is an e-mail that CANNOT be overstated. Its repercussions will be felt for decades to come. "Offering beer delivery and late-night breakfast until 6 in the morning" may be the finest sentence written since, "Mozzarella sticks on the house!" I went to college in Tiffin, Ohio, at a fine institution called Heidelberg College. We had to break into the cafeteria to get free breakfast. I encourage you to google "BALLREICH" and order a bag, or nine, of Ballreich's Potato Chips. In my mind, it's the finest chip on earth.

Hey John,

In your most recent column, where you were discussing some of the best color analysts working in the game today, I believe you made a glaring omission by leaving out Mr. Keith Jones. During this dismal Flyers season, his work in the broadcast booth has been a welcome bright spot. He's knowledgeable, funny, concise, articulate, (relatively) unbiased, unobtrusive to the action, and dare I say, almost sublime?

He has obviously worked on his skills over the years, as I was in the viewing audience when he debuted beside you on the late, lamented "NHL 2Night" all those years ago, at which time he looked like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi.

My appreciation of his work is underscored by the times he is absent from Flyers broadcasts due to his work on Versus. Although he is sorely missed on those occasions, at least when he sits between Engblom and Clement, Jonesy has the best haircut on the set.

Take care,
Roger in Philly

As some of you know, I have written a book with Keith Jones that will be released early next month. I turned in what I believe will be the final version last week. I'll keep you posted. Writing a book with Jonesy probably makes me ineligible to rate Jonesy's performance. But, for whatever reason, and there clearly is one, Flyers telecasts are not shown on the Center Ice Package. At least I haven't seen one.


More Canucks would certainly breathe life into the game most assuredly, especially since smaller-market teams can compete better economically under the new CBA. Winnipeg and Quebec City would make the most sense.

But why not lobby for further reducing the size of goalie equipment rather than altering the size of the nets? All this will serve to do is tamper with the history of the game, in addition to introducing more asterisks into the hallowed record books.

St. Paul, Minn.

I don't see goalie equipment getting reduced enough to give today's offensive players the same amount of net to shoot at as their predecessors. It's unfair to them, and past goalies, who will see their records broken by, in some cases, inferior goalies. But the history stuff isn't my primary concern -- it's just giving the offense a bit of an advantage and encouraging aggressive play. It's the 21st century and we need to at least keep an eye on the entertainment factor without selling our souls. I don't think increasing the size of the net by inches is selling the game's soul and I don't think it will increase scoring by an obscene amount.


I guess I'm just looking for a straight answer from you as to why you want bigger nets. And until I hear a valid answer, OR until I hear an NHLer or ex-college player say the same, I'll continue to laugh each time I read this in your column.


Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden and Boston University coach Jack Parker are both proponents for a slightly larger net. I held my position before knowing that, but it did boost my self-esteem a little.


Your suggested net dimensions result in an 18-percent increase in overall size. However, this won't just result in an 18-percent increase in goals. Most scoring shots, or non-shots that beat the keeper (and miss wide or hit iron), are toward these high, wide-scoring areas. Assuming keepers cover 75 percent of the goal, your changes would increase the area for which shooters aim by double or more. Combine this with the massive effect even slight changes will have during goalmouth scrambles or wraparound attempts, and you're looking at a very, very significant change to the game. Increase scoring? Sure. Change the game entirely? No, thanks.

Saratoga, Calif.

I would accept a smaller increase as a compromise and I would implement the larger net in the AHL as a way to accumulate data and examine how the change would look and feel.

Hey John,

I still feel the bigger nets is a poor choice. But while reading the column, I had an idea. Play the YoungStars Game and All-Star Game with bigger nets. Let's see what happens. I know the score will be 20-18, but let's see if that boosts ratings. Also, locking Gary Bettman up in a cage might help the league, too. Who feels that a midweek All-Star Game on a network that not everyone gets was a good idea? By the way, hopefully hockey fans/band Five for Fighting will be playing John Carroll this spring. What is the verdict -- yay or nay for Five for Fighting?

Hockey fan first, Sabres fan second,
Chris Ostrander

I still don't think the midweek All-Star Game issue is a big deal. Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is held during the week. The only thing that should be blown up is the YoungStars Game. I would have a YoungStars skills competition. I think there should be more skills competitions where things get broken. Skills competitions should be a combination of skill, speed, talent … and a Gallagher show from 1985. I think "100 Years" by Five for Fighting is one of the best songs of the past 15 years.

Hi John,

This question is a total waste of time, and if you have read this far already, then brace yourself for a bad question. If Winnipeg gets to have a team again (which would be great although Hartford wouldn't be bad, either), do you think they would keep the Jets nickname? I would love to see those jerseys again, which would bring back some great memories playing NHL Hockey on SEGA during the good ol' days of childhood. (Zhamnov could never be stopped!)

Take care,
Rockwell City, Iowa

I would bet my Wayne Gretzky rookie card if an NHL team were to return to Winnipeg, it would be called the Jets (much like when the new Cleveland Browns returned to Cleveland).

Hey John,

I was at the All-Star Game here in Dallas. While at the SuperSkills competition, I got an idea for a new event. I work for the Dallas Stars and get to see them practice regularly. I see what NHL players can do with the puck. I saw none of it at the All-Star events. Why don't we create a shootout, sort of like the NBA's most popular slam dunk contest, based entirely on style points? Let the players get creative and do some of the insane stuff with the puck they now only do in their free time.

Ben Phillips

As long as something gets broken, I'm cool with it.

Random thought that has nothing to do with this e-mail: If you like Coldplay, buy an Aqualung CD. If you don't like Coldplay, don't buy an Aqualung CD.


You wrote: "I also don't like the dearth of personality in the NHL. Nearly everyone looks the same out there. And where are the personalities fans can fall in love with?"

Two words: The Ocho

Bill Walsh

Good call, coach. My bad.

Hey John,

Did you notice how the NFL tried to emulate the NHL in their trophy presentation after the Super Bowl? They had Don Shula make a red-carpet entrance with the Lombardi Trophy. Then, after presenting it on the podium, Indy's owner handed it down to the players, who handed it around to each other.

As Shula was walking with the trophy, my friend said, "This is awkward." I quickly replied, "Because it's not the Stanley Cup." My friend is always quick to get on my case about the NHL, but he just gave me a blank stare because, really, there was nothing he could say. It was just nice to see the NFL (the media's Golden Boy of American sports
leagues) take a page, or attempt to, from the NHL (the media's Whipping Boy of American sports leagues).

Arlington, Va.

"Attempt" is the key word. The Stanley Cup is a '56 Thunderbird. The NFL's championship trophy is a Ford Tempo.


I have attached a picture of my son Griffin (four months) at his first Wild game.

Kyle Knutson
Eveleth, Minn.

Born to be Wild. Keep that tongue away from frozen goal posts.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.