Should Pittsburgh Penguins’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma be fired? Everyone’s initial opinion was an overwhelming and emphatic, YES. I don’t know about you, but I don’t watch the Pens for regular season success. They need to be competing for Stanley Cups. Since the 2008-2009 season, this has become a lingering problem for this franchise.
Bylsma has a playoff record of 20-21 since he’s been behind the Pens’ bench to start a season. His playoff failure has become a nagging epidemic and one that needs to be cured. At Bylsma’s final press conference of the season, he answered questions as though he would return next season. However, when asked whether General Manager Ray Shero guaranteed his job security, Bylsma was non-committal.
“At this point in time I haven’t had conversations with Ray Shero about that, about coaching this team next year.”
Heading into the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins, Bylsma had the Pens take part in specific drills geared towards shutting down the Bruins. The Pens worked on defensive zone coverage and the style that they wanted to play in their own end. The Pens also worked on back-checking drills where the forwards and defense practiced identifying what men to cover. Unbeknownst to many, the team put a large emphasis on defense before the series began.
Once the Bruins’ series got underway, the Pens looked like they had no intentions of playing defense in the first two games. They traded chances with the Bruins in Game 1 and embarrassed themselves and their fans by getting bullied in Game 2, 6-1. Finally in Game 3, the Pens decided to tighten things up and play a close checking, playoff style of game.
The Pens played great in Game 3, but why did they have to drill themselves into an 0-2 hole before they woke up and played the way that was necessary to compete with the Bruins? There’s no doubt that Bylsma was sending some type of message to his players as to what needed to be improved after each of the first two games. Why wasn’t the message getting through to this team? Why must they have their backs’ against the wall before they want to listen and play the right way? I’m not sure if the Pens’ management even knows.
Whether it is a lack of leadership carrying out Bylsma’s message or too many superstar personalities on the Pens’ roster, Bylsma’s message is not being accepted in the locker-room. Many people feel that Bylsma is afraid to individually confront players and things are too comfortable within the Pens’ dressing room. A country club mentality. The evidence is crystal clear that whatever playoff approach Bylsma is trying to convey isn’t working with this team. This pattern cannot continue. The Pens cannot wait until they’re down 0-2 or 0-3 to begin competing in a playoff series.
Bylsma can take the credit for having his team adjust defensively against the Bruins and putting forth a much better effort in Game 3. The Pens looked like a drastically different team in their own zone. At the offensive end of the rink the Pens also looked like a team we were not familiar watching. Inexplicably, they were unable to score with a group of forwards who were the highest scoring bunch in the NHL throughout the regular season.
“It certainly wasn’t lack of opportunity or scoring chances or situations for our team, for our players, for our power play. We did have them. And at the end it felt like not only Tuukka Rask was keeping the puck out of the net, but there was a force around the net because we had some great opportunities, good situations for our team, our players, and were not able to find any kind of goals in this series, and never a lead.” -Dan Bylsma
That force was the Bruins’ defensive game plan to keep everything along the perimeter. As much as Bylsma and the Pens were trying to adjust and draw up intelligent plays to beat Rask, Bylsma and the Pens had their mindset all wrong. Bylsma needed to have his team simplify their offensive approach. No puck in which Rask could see was going to beat him. The Pens needed to get two forwards in front of Rask and screen him from seeing the puck. They did not. Forwards needed to drive the puck towards the Bruins’ net and get garbage or rebound goals. They did not. Instead, they continually tried to set up shots around the perimeter to beat Rask, especially on the power play. The Pens’ stubborn offensive approach resulted in scoring two goals in four games. This was the lowest goal total scored in a playoff series in Penguins’ franchise history.
We can go on and on questioning the coaching techniques of Bylsma. Many are calling for him to be axed. With disappointing exits from the past four post-seasons, Bylsma’s job is certainly going to be examined by Pens’ management. While many think his employment with the team is coming to an end, whispers behind the scenes sound like Bylsma will get another shot next season. If he doesn’t stick around, he certainly will land behind another bench next year.
If you were in Ray Shero’s position, would you fire Dan Bylsma because the situation could certainly be worse? Marty Schottenheimer and the San Diego Chargers went 14-2 in 2006, but lost in the first round of the NFL Playoffs. Schottenheimer was fired in the off-season after clashing with his general manager. Although he succeeded in his first season with San Diego, new head coach Norv Turner arguably turned out to be worse than what the Chargers already had in Schottenheimer.
Is Bylsma to blame when the two best players in the world, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, have zero points in the Eastern Conference Finals? Should Bylsma be fired when these two players have never gone four consecutive games in which neither managed to record a point? Bylsma can’t score for the Pens; he can only do so much.
Play general manger and make your decision. Should Dan Bylsma be fired? If you are going to fire him, who are you bringing in to deal with what we know is a complicated team to coach?
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UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote. The voting was extremely tight. At this point in time, 52.5% voted for Dan Bylsma to be fired, while 47.5% voted for Bylsma to keep his job. The most popular names written into the poll as coaching replacements were: Alain Vigneault, Lindy Ruff and Dave Tippett. Ruff and Tippett were the two coaches who received the most recommendations to be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ next head coach.
Justin Glock has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers since 2011. As a lead writer, his Penguins knowledge traces back over two decades. For any requests, please feel free to contact Justin via email: JGlock10@gmail.com.