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Savran: Patrick squandered golden opportunity

Saturday, June 21, 2003

In the end, Craig Patrick might have chosen Eddie Olczyk anyway. He might have searched the hockey world over, eventually deciding to trust his initial instinct that the best man for the job was the first man he talked to. But what he might have missed in the process of the hire is more in question than the hire itself.

Make no mistake. Edzo, to use his words, is a very capable human. He will learn, adapt and adjust.

It's not a lengthy stretch to imagine him becoming a highly proficient and successful coach, if the talent level in Pittsburgh allows it.

That being said, one cannot discount or dismiss his lack of experience. It's not something that should be diminished as inconsequential, waving it off like a referee signaling, "No Goal!" It is a factor, and it will be a factor in his rookie season.

It can be mitigated somewhat, depending on who the Penguins hire as his "bench" coach. Presumably, that will be someone with experience running an NHL bench.

Despite all his capabilities, Olczyk will experience situations he has never experienced. Even things he recognized as a player require different actions as a coach.

As a player, you're responsible for yourself. As a coach, you are responsible for everybody and everything, so your response must be different.

But given the state of this team, Olczyk will have a cushion because the Penguins will not be judged necessarily on wins and losses this coming season. The losses figure to far outnumber the wins, and that pretty much is the expectation. So if he makes the same mistakes that other novice coaches do, it's not likely to cost the team a chance at the Stanley Cup.

Or the playoffs.

So time is on his side.

He's likely to be judged more on the progress of the young players who figure to comprise the bulk of the roster.

And, by the way, young isn't a synonym for talented. The Penguins' management continually refers to all the "talent" in the system. I say it's alleged talent. It certainly hasn't been surfaced in the group's performances in Wilkes-Barre.

You would think that dominating individually in the minors is a precursor to NHL success, but there was no such performer on the Baby Penguins.

Nor is there much eye-popping talent from the remnants of the NHL team.

Given their finishes the past two seasons, merely making the Penguins team is hardly an achievement. Making the Penguins a better team is quite another thing.

I suspect Patrick will be bound to this decision and might have bet his job on it. Time will tell whether it was a good hire. But what did he miss by shortening the interviewing process?

If Olczyk knocked Patrick's socks off, who's to say another candidate might not have done the same to his shoes?

Did you marry the first person you dated?

He could have interviewed several candidates, even if he was predisposed to hiring his first choice.

But there's more that could have been gained from talking to qualified persons.

He might have discovered the perfect coach for his top minor-league team. He could have discovered any number of qualified assistant coaches ... coaches with different ideas, not steeped in the increasingly failing "Penguin way" and not tainted by the recent losing.

And even if the process didn't result in a hiring, what's wrong with extracting some valid opinions from an interviewee, anxious to please his interviewer?

Maybe you get an inside scouting report on a current NHL player you're interested in trading for that this guy coached.

Or, "Hey Joe. What do you think of our team? What kind of a system would you install based on what we have here? Would you play Richard Lintner at forward or on defense? Is Sebastian Caron legit in your opinion?"

And, if you were talking to a guy who has been coaching in the AHL, what's wrong with getting an opponent's evaluation of your alleged talent in the minors? "What do you think of Milan Kraft? Kris Beech? Brooks Orpik?" Some of these guys coached against or scouted these people.

Isn't it possible that the Penguins' perspective of these prospects is skewed by their nearly desperate need for them to become legitimate NHL players? Might they be overrating them because they're trying to justify drafting or acquiring them?

Why not get an unbiased opinion?

That could have been the most productive result of an exhaustive coaching search.

As a result of Patrick's abbreviated "search," the Penguins came away with their new head coach, a selection that might end up being a stroke of genius. Who knows?

But they could have come away with so much more.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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