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.
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.
That’s it! That’s the list!
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.
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.
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.