Saturday, April 7, 2012

GTOG Investigates: Why Tortorella and Laviolette think the Pens are "Gutless" and "Arrogant"

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In the past week, a full-scale propaganda war has been waged against the Penguins organization, their coach, and Sidney Crosby.  In some ways, it's just an amplified version of the whispers and innuendo we've heard from other players and coaches in the league, but the directness of the attacks and the sheer volume with which they were screamed makes me think that maybe -- just maybe -- there is something else at play here.

Let's put aside for a moment the criticism of Crosby.  It's something he's heard since he was 14, and as he showed yesterday, he's perfectly capable of handling it.  Instead, let's look at why Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella attacked Dan Bylsma and the Pens organization as a whole.  I have a theory.

Find out the theory after the jump...

Michel Therrien took over for Ed Olczyk on December 15, 2005.  At the time, the Pens were a bad team but everyone knew where they were headed.  They continued to stink for that year, but earned the 5th seed in 2006-07 and then lost the Cup Finals in 2007-08.  After a disappointing first 50+ games of 2008-09, rumors swirled that the Pens were about to fire Michel Therrien.  Despite the record, the roster was loaded with talent, almost all of it under 23 years old.  To any objective observer, it had to be considered the most coveted coaching job in the league.

"Dis a good job."
On February 15, 2009, the Pens fired Michel Therrien.

On February 15, 2009, Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella were working as TV analysts for TSN.

It would be naive to think that the Pens hadn't put any thought into Therrien's replacement until the day after the Valentine's Day Massacre when they actually fired him.  That would have been incredibly imprudent, and we know that's not Shero's style.  And it would also be naive to think that Tortorella, who won a Cup with Tampa in 2004, and Laviolette, who won the Cup with Carolina in 2006, weren't sitting there in February 2009 thinking, "Uh, hello! Look at me!"

Again, I have no idea what happened, but there are at least three possible scenarios of how this played out.

1) Laviolette and/or Tortorella showed interest in the Penguins but the Penguins did not reciprocate.  This, of course, would make the Pens gutless and arrogant.

2) There was mutual interest, but the Pens ultimately decided that they were going in a different direction.  This, like option 1, would have been gutless and arrogant.

3) Laviolette and Tortorella were not interested in the job.  This would also make the Pens gutless and arrogant for not having a job that was more interesting to Laviolette and Tortorella.

Of these, scenario 3 makes the least sense.  Tortorella was obviously interested in getting back into coaching -- he replaced Tom Renney with the Rangers only 7 days after the Pens hired Bylsma.  Do you think he would have preferred taking over the Pens roster -- led by a 21 year-old Sidney Crosby and company -- or the Rangers, who had Scott Gomez making $7 million/year?  It's less clear whether Laviolette would have wanted to get back into coaching so soon after being fired by Carolina (12/3/08), but he was hired by the Flyers on December 4, 2009, so it's not like he had mentally checked out of the profession.

A quick internet search doesn't prove that there was any interest in either direction, but it's clear that there were at least rumors that Torts or Laviolette could replace Therrien.  From the Delaware County Times on January 13, 2009: "Speculation is that former Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette could replace Therrien at a moment’s notice."  Rob Rossi in the Trib on February 22, 2009 considers candidates to replace Therrien permanently (i.e., if Bylsma was just temporary): "His experience, intensity and direct approach could benefit Penguins' young nucleus."   I took to Twitter to directly ask Dave Molinari (Pens beat writer for the Post-Gazette) and Larry Brooks (Rangers beat writer fro New York Post) and neither of them had any concrete info one way or the other.

Prove me right, Rob. You're the last great hope.
(Message boards from the time are awash in Torts rumors, but I won't even link them, other than to say that one of them placed Tortorella in a Panera Bread in Oakland in January 2009.  That poor server.  "THIS BAGEL IS BULLSHIT! IT HAS TOO MUCH CREAM CHEESE. IT'S DISGUSTING. ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING. YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR BAGELS. FUCK!")

To sum all this up, here's what we know.  Rumors swirled that Torts or Laviolette could be a replacement for Therrien.  Those guys were each recent winners of the Stanley Cup and, from a hockey perspective, would have had absolutely no reason not to jump for the opportunity to guide a Crosby/Malkin/Fleury led team through their primes.  But instead of hiring those guys, the Pens handed over the keys to their Ferrari to someone who barely had his license -- Dan Bylsma.

Torts and Laviolette have obviously landed on their feet, and it's because they are very good coaches.  But for whatever reason, they seem to have something against Dan Bylsma, who by all accounts is a really nice guy who almost always takes the high road in these situations, and the Pens organization.

Maybe there's nothing to this theory.  But maybe Torts and Laviolette have a little bit of Spurned Lover Syndrome.  And the only thing worse than losing out on someone you want is when the person you want picks someone else.  And turns out to be right.

Got to his game.


  1. Great post -- this is an interesting theory. I like thinking of both coaches as furious with the Pens for rejecting them, then working themselves up about how terrible the organization is -- like telling everyone your ex sucks anyway. I'm sure by now they're both quite happy to be where they are, but I agree that the Pens not hiring them could be part of their dislike of the organization.

  2. you have too much free time.

    1. We should probably all devote more of our time to trolling Internet message boards.

  3. ..and putting some of it to good use. Entertaining, thanks.

  4. Or we can go with this comical explanation, which reads more like fan rant than journalism: