Olczyk the fall guy, but players are to blame

Updated: December 15, 2005, 4:23 PM ET
By Barry Melrose | Special to ESPN.com

There is no worse job in the world than being the coach of a losing team. No matter what you do, it's the coach's fault. That's all people see.

After the Pittsburgh Penguins' lowly start, something had to be done. And in those situations, you either make a trade or you fire the coach. In this case, Ed Olczyk was the choice -- the easier choice given that it's easier to get rid of one person instead of five.

Sidney Crosby
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarWith a player like Sidney Crosby, the Penguins should be winning more games.

But make no mistake about it -- the players cost Olczyk his job. The players have the most responsibility, the players are the ones out there playing. The team can sit around Thursday, talking about how tough it is that the Penguins let Eddie go, but the players are the ones that got him fired. They got him fired because they didn't play well.

The team started out the season with so much hope. Sidney Crosby came to town, ticket sales were up, attendance was up. The Penguins looked like a potential playoff team. But all Pittsburgh has done, especially considering its lineup of Crosby, Mario Lemieux, Sergei Gonchar, Zigmund Palffy, John LeClair and Dick Tarnstrom, is underachieve.

This team should be winning.

Lemieux hand-picked Eddie for the coaching job, but maybe it was inexperience that hurt Olczyk. I was a much better coach in my fifth season than I was in my first. You can't really have on-the-job training in the NHL. And when you lose, it's impossible not to take it home with you. Maybe Eddie will be an assistant somewhere, where he can gain more experience before taking on another head coaching position.

For now, the Penguins turn to Michel Therrien. It's a natural progression. Therrien knows the organization, he has been an NHL coach before and the move makes the most sense for Pittsburgh.

But Therrien has a tough task ahead of him. On paper, the Penguins are still a good hockey club. But they have to start playing with fire and -- I know it's a cliché -- they have to take it one game at a time. The team has to buy into Therrien's disciplined system, but this won't happen overnight.

After those disastrous losses to Minnesota and St. Louis, the Penguins can only go up from here.

Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.

Barry Melrose

NHL studio analyst
Former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose is an NHL studio analyst for ESPN.

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