As for the defense. Good article in the Trib this morning...
Savard in charge of Pens' defense
By Karen Price
Sunday, September 17, 2006
The first time Penguins general manager Ray Shero mentioned Andre Savard as a candidate for the team's assistant coaching job, coach Michel Therrien's reaction was that Savard already had a job.
Savard, the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens when Therrien was the coach there, was serving as the team's assistant GM under Bob Gainey.
But Shero, who knew Savard from their days working for the Ottawa Senators, told Therrien he still thought they could get Savard. Provided, of course, that Therrien was fine with that arrangement.
After all, it was Savard who fired Therrien in January 2003.
"I said, 'Didn't he fire you?' And (Therrien) said, 'Yeah, he fired me. But we had a great relationship," Shero said. "Listen, that's how it goes. If we could get Andre Savard, that would be great. He was really enthusiastic about it."
The Penguins did get Savard, hiring him July 3 as an assistant to Therrien and Mike Yeo. The 53-year-old former center hasn't coached in the NHL since he was an assistant to Jacques Martin with the Senators in 1999-2000. Since that time, he's been the Canadiens' director of player personnel, GM, assistant GM and general manager of their minor-league affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Now, in his return to the bench, Savard is charged with turning around a defense that allowed 316 goals last year, more than any other NHL team, and a penalty-killing unit that finished the season ranked 29th out of 30 teams.
"A lot of improvement this year, I think, comes from the coaching staff," Shero said. "Not to put undue pressure on them, but let's be realistic. You can't just always go out and get new players all the time. Part of the improvement is going to come from within. That's the way it's got to be with this organization. You can't go outside and start trading for this guy, signing that guy. Improvement's got to come from within."
Shero was limited, in terms of upgrading the Penguins' defense, after he took the job in May. He already had Sergei Gonchar, Eric Cairns, Rob Scuderi, Josef Melichar and Ryan Whitney under contract, and Brooks Orpik was a restricted free agent. It didn't leave much room for change.
This year, the Penguins will have those six players plus Mark Eaton, whom Shero signed as a free agent, and, presumably, rookie Noah Welch.
It is essentially the same defense as last year. Although there is more experience, it is still a young defense.
Savard said it's too early for him to make any kind of evaluation of the team's blueliners, but he does believe they performed much better at the end of last season than they did at the beginning.
In the Penguins' last 25 games of 2005-06, they allowed 86 goals for an average of 3.44 per game, compared to 230 goals for an average of 4.04 in the first 57 games.
"(Therrien and Yeo) brought in their system, and they have a good system," Savard said. "They improved that situation the last 20 games. This year, the players know more of the system. It seems to me everyone's buying in, and, collectively, it makes you a better team."
Having a coach who was once fired by the assistant coach could make for an awkward situation, but both Therrien and Savard say things between them are fine.
"I did renegotiate his contract twice, without him asking," Savard said, smiling. "(Therrien) did a good job. We had a tough situation in Montreal. But the relationship has always been good."
Therrien went so far as to call Savard "a perfect match" for the organization.
"It's important to have a guy with a lot of NHL experience, and we needed to find a guy I felt comfortable to work with, and Ray felt comfortable to work with and I knew his background," Therrien said. "We kept a good relationship. It's not like we didn't talk for two or three years. We're still good friends and understand it's a business sometimes."