Looking Back, Penguins Never Really Got it Right

So this is it.

This was the last hurrah. The last charge of Dan Bylsma and his slightly-less-than-uber-talented Penguins.

It ended in the same fashion that the previous four postseasons ended: with nigh more than a whimper.

The Failures

Dan Bylsma, along with his assistant coaches, will be returning behind the Pittsburgh Penguins bench next season. (Pensryourdaddy / Picasa)

Dan Bylsma is expected to be fired today. (Pensryourdaddy / Picasa)

I suppose 2010 can be excused to a degree. The NHL has not had a repeat Stanley Cup Champion now in 16 years. The disappointment with 2010 lies more in losing a game seven on home ice in rather dull fashion: a 6-2 shellacking by the Montreal Canadiens.

Even 2011 had a built-in excuse for Bylsma, Sidney Crosby & Co. despite holding a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. No Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the playoffs or for the last half of the regular season. Crosby’s season ended with a concussion suffered in the Winter Classic. Malkin’s ended shortly thereafter after blowing out his knee. Neither saw a second of action in the postseason. Even though Pittsburgh was minus its two best players, blowing a 3-1 series lead is still a black eye to the franchise.

The disaster that has been the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs really picked up steam in 2012′s dramatic dismantling by the team’s arch-nemesis: the Philadelphia Flyers. We all know and remember quite vividly how that played out, so I won’t rehash an old wound.

What eventually seemed like a very promising postseason run in 2013 ended via a sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Tuukka Rask pitched two shutouts in the series and the Bruins held the Pens to just two goals in four games.

Two.

That’s it! That’s the list!

Great Expectations

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have to improve their playoff performances this season.(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

And now the calendar turns over to April of 2014, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are back again, but this time without many of the expectations that have haunted the Pittsburgh Penguins in previous campaigns.

I challenge anyone to find me ten people who thought that Penguins could reach the Stanley Cup Final this year. Most of the talk of them making it to the Cup Final revolved around the rest of the conference playing itself out to the advantage of the Penguins, and low and behold it did just that.

The Rangers dispatched the Flyers in seven games, and Boston was eventually nipped by Montreal in a tremendous series that went the full seven games.

The Penguins were set up perfectly. Except for one fatal flaw: themselves.

This is the article that was due two nights ago from me after the game seven defeat at the hands of the Rangers, but I needed to clear my head and rocess my thoughts, rather than just typing up general ramblings and cursing with every word.

The Fallout

Dan Bylsma will no longer be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s not official, but not one human being on this planet believes that Dan should or will be back behind the bench next season.

Ray Shero is a different case. It is this writer’s belief that he, too should be gone. Ray did a less than stellar job of putting this team together through a combination of different avenues. He drafted poorly, and this past offseason signed players to contracts that A) can’t be moved, and B) will handcuff the Penguins financially for at least the next three seasons.

Ray Shero won the 2013 General Manager of the Year Award. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

Ray Shero’s job is not safe after Penguins’ latest playoff failure.. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

Shero’s one saving grace will be his ability to pull off steals of deals at the trade deadline. Angelo Esposito, Colby Armstrong and a draft pick for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. The Pens reached the Cup Final in ’08 with Hossa on Crosby’s right wing, Dupuis is still a member (and a very popular one at that) of the Pens, and Atlanta is now the reborn Winnipeg Jets. Joe Morrow, now mired in Boston’s farm system, and a 3rd round pick for Brenden Morrow out of Dallas last season. To go along with a first round pick and two guys who would have never seen the light of day in a Penguins sweater for future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. The Iginla trade was a good move by Shero, but Iggy was unitized very poorly by Bylsma.

The inability to draft and develop his own players (Shero seemed to have an obsession with puck-moving defensemen) and signing bottom-of-the-barrel free agents and waiver-wire rejects should ultimately prove to be Shero’s undoing in Pittsburgh.

Not to mention that after last season’s debacle vs the Bruins Shero exclaimed that Bylsma “is my coach,” signing he and the entire coaching staff to contract extensions, seemingly hitching his own wagon to Bylsma’s horse.

The two should now ride off into that beautiful Pittsburgh sunset together.

Where do the Penguins Turn Now?

By the time you read this, the announcement on Bylsma may have come and gone. Again, no surprises here.

The Penguins will at the very least need a new head coach, and traits for said new coach have already been laid by members of ownership.

Someone who preaches toughness and a focus on defense, without hampering the creativity of the Penguins star players. A coach that is capable of teaching and helping to develop younger players, while commanding the respect of the locker room and not shying away from making sure that the inmates all know who runs the asylum.

Whoever the new bench boss of the Penguins will be, his job will not be an easy one. This figures to be a team with a very different look come next year. The general hope around the team is that some of the young, promising defensemen in the system will work their way into the starting lineup come October. Guys like Brian Dumoulin (a component of the Jordan Staal trade so important that had Carolina not included him, the trade never would have happened), Scott Harrington (a 2nd-round draft selection in 2011 and captain of the at-that-time defending Memorial Cup Champion London Knights), Derrick Pouliot (the 8th-overall pick in the 2012 draft, also a product of the Staal trade), and perhaps Philip Samuelsson (son of former Pens defenseman Ulf) and Harrison Ruopp (rumored to be the next Brooks Orpik in terms of his physicality).

The problem remains that there exist no NHL-caliber wingers in the farm system whatsoever. Brian Gibbons is a free agent-to-be, Jayson Megna couldn’t get consistent playing time, and Chris Connor was in the same boat despite this being his second stint with the Pens.

If Shero is let go, then the new Personnel director (I am of the mind that Pittsburgh should go in the direction of a coach who has final say on, at the very least, all player decisions. Not a GM like Shero) will likely have a tall mountain which will need scaled to get this team to a competitive level for the 2014-2015 season. As for candidates on both the coaching and GM front, stay tuned.

The contract extension of Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff were, in my opinion, the beginning of the end for this chapter of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The coming weeks will prove to be a challenge, yet very exciting for fans hungry for a team that they can once again believe in.

You cannot have life, without death. The Pittsburgh Penguins of Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero died unceremoniously on Tuesday night.

Here’s to a new happy and healthy “Buckle Up” baby.

Inbox is TDTorraoTHW@Gmail.com

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Tannor Torrao

Tannor Torrao

Pittsburgh, Pa. Hockey junkie. Fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Red Sox. Never short on opinions when it comes to either.

One Comment

  1. pearlJamFan says:

    Dear God dude did you proofread this article? LOL… At times I was rereading a few sentences like a dyslexic would.. Anyways who cares right it’s not like millions read this..

    Firing Shero came a year too late honestly, but Monday morning QB is always easier.. There is NO DOUBT that both Shero and Bylsma not only underachieved but they failed miserably. However, so did Mario and Burkle!!! The GM and coach aren’t the only positions in this organization that are flawed; unless Shero is an egomaniac and wouldn’t listen to drafting help. The Pens have major issues in the amateur scouting department and the player development department. I’m not sure when Shero signed an extension but Mario or at least Billionaire Ron should have had an issue with Shero constantly trading top picks for rentals or taking all these defensemen with high picks. I mean there comes a point when enough is enough. If you do something a few times and it doesn’t work to keep doing it is trying to defy the definition of insane. What boggles my mind really is that ownership allowed Shero to have a clause in his contract that stated he had final say regarding all players. I never expected Mario to be a Mark Cuban or a Jerry Jones but is this about just putting people in the seats? I never thought I would see the day where Mario didn’t want championship, but too be honest they slacked majorily with the drafting. When a GM has had only 4 drafted forwards touch NHL ice in 8 years something is wrong and when 3 of the 4 haven’t exactly been anything stellar something is amiss. When the coach keeps telling the media ” we are a tough grinding team” and 5 of your players are shorter than 5’11″ or smaller someone isn’t getting the message. I’ve been watching the Pens since I was a toddler in the early 80′s and this 2014 roster might have been one of the biggest disappointments ever assembled. The severe drop in talent ( superstars, stars, career AHL’ers) and lack of size is what did them in.

    A few folks in this town want to see Botterill get the GM job and to that I say NO WAY!!! He might be a capologist but who knows how much of the drafting he was at fault for too. Who knows what kind of horrible habits he picked up from his predecessor and who knows if he’ll make the obvious changes that need to be made. I’ll take Julien BriseBois ( TB) or Jim Benning (Bos) before Botterill just bc I don’t know how much he played in the Pens being a borderline mess. The sad thing is how overrated Shero was bc of 3 trades; and those 3 trades masked some serious flaws that the fans, media, and ownership failed to recognize. In this town NO REPORTER has the balls to call the Penguins out until after the fact. That’s kind of gutless; lets wait until the players have gone home to question leadership, talk about lack of production blah, blah blah. They put it in print but not one of them asked any rough questions when the players gave their exit interviews. It wasn’t until Pensblog showed Shero’s drafts in March that you actually could see what poor shape their minor league system is in with quality forward depth. Who in their right mind brings back a 34 yr old ( at the time) Dman when you have 2 able Dmen ( Dumoulin, Despres) on their ELC? Shero used to make a big deal about not signing role players to more than 2 years, and yet he goes and gives that contract to Scuds, smh.. Also giving Kunitz and Dupuis the years that he did was a BIG Time mistake too. Surely nobody could see 9 tearing his acl ( hopefully the new coach will realize that he belongs on the 3rd line), but little by little the style of play that made 14 successful is leaving him. Gone is the player who hit hard and went into the dirty areas and welcome the player who is slowly turning into a spoiled prima donna who is often selfish with his lack of discipline.
    With Pouliot tearing it up we could have seen the end of Letang. I am a Letang fan but this team needs cap relief. What’s nice about Shero getting fired is that a new GM doesn’t have the allegiance to Letang that Shero promised. What held up his negotiations was the ” Jeff Carter rule” and that’s if he signs his extension last year his NTC/LTC wouldn’t kick in until July, 1 2014 bc Letang didn’t have enough years in the NHL. Shero prides himself on loyalty ( which is great in the real world but not in a business that can shrewd) and he promised 58 that he wouldn’t be traded. Also, 29 only having one more year left at $5 million makes him a candidate to be traded as well, bc you really could probably get the same services for half the money. Scuderi has to go!!!! Maybe Paul Martin too at $5 million or even James Neal. With how Neal looks at playoff time yearly he’s overpaid bigtime.. With Neil Sheehy saying earlier last week that him and Shero talked about a Niskanen extension mid season but decided to wait until years end – which makes one wonder WTH Shero thinks about- and thinks that Nisky will be looking for Andrew MacDonald type money $5 million.. Nisky is good but he’s not that good and after only having 1 stellar NHL season he’s as good as gone. Why has Shero drafted all these D if he’s not going to play or trade them? Between trying to keep Nisky and bringing back Scuds it’s plain as day that Shero is seriously flawed. If it were up to him their D next year would have had Scuds, Nisky, Letang, Martin, Maatta, Bortuzzo and one other… And then they would have had what Despres( maybe), Pouliot, Harrington, Samuelsson ( maybe), Ruopp, Dumoulin playing elsewhere or in WBS… With 87 and 71 turning 27 and 28 this summer I am almost convinced that they’ll be lucky if the win another cup… Good article dude..

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