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In 2003, Ed Olczyk made the transition from player and broadcaster to coach by accepting the head coaching position with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here is a recap of his time with the team.
Rick Kehoe had been relieved of his duties 2 seasons into his coaching tenure after finishing 5th place twice and missing the playoffs both years. Ed Olczyk appeared in over 1000 NHL games and played two seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins (1996 to 1998). He accepted the head coaching job with Pittsburgh.
Not a bad place to start, given he had little coaching experience (let’s keep in focus that this was 2003 Pittsburgh, not 2019 Pittsburgh) and had spent the time since his retirement in the press box.
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Some would say given the mediocre appearance of the team the expectations on Olczyk were low. A positive note for the new coach was the gift he was to receive with the impending return of one of the greatest players ever to lace up a pair of skates.
The Penguins had cleared millions in payroll off the books and were going into the season without a clear number one goaltender, a blue line anchored by NHL journeymen, a few star players, and a plethora of rookies that had yet to arrive in Ryan Malone, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Rob Scuderi
So, on September 30, 2003, when Mario Lemieux announced he would be returning for the 2003-2004 season, Olczyk’s prospects for a fruitful season took a huge leap in the right direction.
From a pure pressure standpoint, the prospect of having your boss on ice level with you, potentially critiquing every move you made, had to be enough to send a chill to the marrow of Olczyk’s bones.
For what it is worth Lemieux would only appear in 10 games before going down with a hip injury sustained on Nov. 1, 2003 while playing the Boston Bruins. Lemieux would only appear in 26 more games before retiring for the second time in January of 2006.
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For the third season in a row, the Penguins finished last in the Atlantic Division and failed to make the playoffs. The team finished 30th Overall in the goals allowed (303), allowed the most powerplay goals (84), allowed the most shorthanded goals (15) and finished 30th overall in Penalty kill 77.24%. There was also a hideous 18 game losing streak (0-17-1).
Attendance was also an area of concern, the Penguins averaged 11,877 attendees per game which placed them 30th in the league.
In the first 62 games of the season, the Penguins went 11-42-5-4 good for 31 Points. However, during the final 20 games they went 12-5-3-0 a small improvement, but an improvement none the less.
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Dick Tarnstrom led the team in Assists and Points and became the first defenseman in Penguins history to lead the team in scoring for an entire season. At the trade deadline, Pittsburgh acquired Ric Jackman from the Blues. The two were brilliant together on the powerplay and were dubbed the “Ric and Dick show”.
Malone led the way in goal scoring for the Penguins with 22 and added 21 assists (43 Points) he was also named to the 2003-2004 All-Rookie team. Scuderi also made his Penguins debut that season leading the team with a plus 2 rating.
18-year-old Fleury, the 1st overall pick in the 2003 entry draft, made 21 appearances that season, putting together a record of 4-14-2 with a GAA of 3.64 and a save percentage of 0.896%. He also recorded the first shutout of his career against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 30.
They say it is always darkest before the dawn and the 2003-2004 season could be considered some very dark times indeed for the black and vegas gold. Although the Penguins would “lose” the draft lottery that year and have to settle for Evgeni Malkin with the second overall pick, the elements were beginning to come to together to usher an in the new era of Penguins hockey and the rebirth of the franchise was only a couple of years away.
Olczyk’s second season of coaching was to be one filled with pomp and circumstance as the New era of the NHL had begun. Pittsburgh loaded up on veteran talent to complement the arrival of Sidney Crosby and CO. and the team was forecasted to have a favorable season.
Sadly, the Penguins started the season 8-17-6, losing the first 9 games and posted one of the worst starts in franchise history. On December 15, 2005, the Penguins made a change, firing Olczyk and hiring Michel Therrien.
Darkest Before Dawn
After losing 8 of 9 games, management knew the team was ripe for a change. Olczyk became the first coaching casualty of the season. His cumulative record in 113 games was 31-64-14-4.
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His term with the Penguins would prove to be his only taste of coaching (so far) in the NHL. He did return to Pittsburgh on April 8, 2010, when he joined 49 other Penguin Alumni on the ice in a pre-game ceremony during the final home game at Mellon Arena.