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Few previous Penguins coaching changes paid off

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PITTSBURGH (AP) -Ray Shero didn't like what he saw on the ice, didn't like what he saw in the eyes of the Pittsburgh Penguins' players and definitely didn't like what he saw in the standings.

So Shero did what most NHL general managers do when a talented team's season is slipping away.

He fired the coach.

Changes are nothing new in a league that goes through coaches as fast as any in pro sports - there have been five firings in the NHL this season alone, and the Ottawa Senators have had four coaches since reaching the Stanley Cup finals two years ago.

While everything he saw told Shero that Michel Therrien had to go and minor-league coach Dan Bylsma was the man to replace him, the Penguins' history suggests the move may not pay off - even though Therrien predicted Monday they will make the playoffs without him.

"I never saw it coming," Therrien said of his firing.

Most coaches don't.

The Penguins have made eight in-season coaching changes since the franchise began play in 1967, and only two made a significant difference. Others led to the Penguins playing worse than they did under the previous coach.

The success or failure of Sunday night's change will be easy to judge. If Bylsma turns the Penguins around and gets last year's Stanley Cup finalists into the playoffs, Shero's move will be hailed. If Bylsma fails, there will be questions whether the Penguins acted too hastily in firing a coach who made such an impact in so little time.

Therrien didn't make a big difference in the standings when he replaced Eddie Olczyk in 2005-06; the Penguins went 8-17-6 under Olczyk and 14-29-8 under Therrien. It was a season later, when the Penguins finished 47-24-11 and had 105 points, when Therrien's takeover paid off. Last season, they were two wins away from raising the Stanley Cup.

A brief history of other in-season Penguins coaching moves:

-2001-02, Rick Kehoe replaces Ivan Hlinka. A year after taking the Penguins to the conference finals in his only season as coach, Hlinka was let go after an 0-4 start. This was the season that started the Penguins' steep slide following 11 consecutive playoff seasons; they averaged only 25 wins over the next four seasons. They went 55-81-14-10 in two seasons under Kehoe before Olczyk replaced him in 2003-04.

-1999-2000, Herb Brooks replaces Kevin Constantine. The Penguins were flopping and their stars - i.e. Jaromir Jagr - were rebelling under Constantine's system, which required even elite-level players to risk injury by blocking shots.

Not long before the move was made, Constantine was heard screaming at his players following a loss: "If you're trying to get me fired, you're doing a good job of it."

Once Brooks arrived following an 8-14-3-4 start, the season turned around swiftly, and Brooks (29-23-5-2) had the Penguins two games up in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia. Then came the famous five-overtime loss, the Penguins did not win another game in the series, and Brooks chose not to return the following season. Later, Brooks and Hlinka died in car accidents on different continents a year apart.

-1996-97, Craig Patrick replaces Eddie Johnston. A season after the Penguins were upset in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals by Florida, Patrick didn't like how they were playing under Johnston (31-26-5) and the general manager went behind the bench himself on March 3. The move was a dud; the Penguins finished 7-10-3 and limped into the playoffs, where Philadelphia took them out in five games.

"If a team's not doing too well, coaches don't stick around too long," star Mario Lemieux said. "I think mainly it's just a fresh start."

Lemieux didn't stick around much longer; he retired after that season, bought the Penguins in bankruptcy court two years later and, in late 2000, came out of retirement.

-1989-90, Patrick replaces Gene Ubriaco. Patrick was hired as general manager and a couple of days later, as interim coach after Ubriaco was fired following a 10-14-2 start. The season before, the Penguins blew a 3-2 series lead against Philadelphia in the conference semifinals. The move didn't succeed - the Penguins were 22-26-6 under Patrick and missed the playoffs on the last day of the season, finishing 17th in the 21-team overall standings.

Ubriaco complained that players who repeatedly aired their grievances publicly undermined what he was trying to accomplish.

I'm not sour about this. I'm not ticked off," Ubriaco said. "It's a business decision on their part and they own the team. Life goes on."

-1975-76, Ken Schinkel replaces Marc Boileau. Probably the best in-season coaching move in team history - coincidentally, it came two seasons after Boileau replaced Schinkel in a similar late-season move. The Penguins were skidding under Boileau, going 15-23-5, but reversed themselves and went 20-10-7 under Schinkel following the Jan. 17 move. The Penguins finished eighth among the NHL's 18 teams and were beaten by Toronto 2-1 in a preliminary playoff round.

-1973-74, Boileau replaces Schinkel. The Penguins were better under Boileau, going 14-10-4, but they had too much ground to make up after starting 14-31-5 under Schinkel and missed the playoffs.

-1972-73, Ken Schinkel replaces Red Kelley. For the first time in franchise history, the Penguins didn't have a coach named Red; their first two coaches were Red Sullivan (1976-69) and Kelley (1969-73). This was a lateral move; the Penguins missed the playoffs after being 17-19-6 under Kelly and 15-18-3 under Schinkel.

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