Pittsburgh Penguins CEO Dave Morehouse announced the general manager Ray Shero had been relieved of his duties on Friday, saying that the team believed “new leadership can help us get back on track” after failing to return to the Stanley Cup Final following their 2009 championship.
Yet there was no mention of the man who coached the Penguins to the Cup and then for the next five seasons of getting off-track: Dan Bylsma.
But Morehouse said that Bylsma had not been fired, and neither was his staff.
“The decision is to have a new GM come in and evaluate the entire hockey operations department, including the coaching staff,” said Morehouse, who said the team has a “large group of people” in mind for the opening. “This isn’t a complete overhaul. We’ve had good success in the regular season. We’re a good team.”
isn't that a little weird? Firing the GM for lack of success on the ice, but not the guy behind the bench?
“I don’t think there’s an element of weirdness. I think we’re trying to do it systematically. We’re trying to address the situation at the top,” he said. “We’re trying to get from good to great.”
As developments go, this was a stunner. Reports were rampant that Bylsma has lost the room, and that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in particular had soured on him.
From a tactical standpoint, several portions of the system the team played overwhelmed or confused current and former players, particularly on defense. Ben Lovejoy was a middling borderline NHL defenseman with the Penguins. After being traded to the Ducks early in the 2012-13 season, he became a top-four defenseman for head coach Bruce Boudreau who by his own admission, likes "to keep things simple."
The Penguins' unyielding adherence to their system rarely allowed for any flexibility for the unique skillsets of players. As a result, marvelously talented players such Simon Despres and Beau Bennett have either languished in roles below their abilities at the NHL level or been marooned in the AHL while trust and ice time has been entrusted to players with limited abilities such as Deryk Engelland and Chris Conner.
Yet he remains coach, for now.
Why? A few theories:
1. Here are some numbers: 252-117-32. That’s Dan Bylsma’s record in the regular season, and that’s the best regular-season winning percentage in Penguins history. Morehouse stressed several times that the team is happy with its regular season performance but needed to go “from good to great” in the postseason.
Is it possible they think Bylsma can work as the head coach but Shero was failing to him the players he neeeds? Or are they just hesitant to turf someone who, clearly, can coach his behind off over an 82-game season? To that end …
2. Keeping him away from the competition. It’s not fair to Bylsma, but two division rivals in the Washington Capitals (especially) and the Carolina Hurricanes are looking for coaches. They can’t contact Bylsma as he’s under contract for the next two seasons with the Penguins. By keeping him in limbo, the Penguins are forcing those teams to look elsewhere for coaches or continue waiting to see if Bylsma is sprung from Pittsburgh. Tactically, it’s a brutally calculated but shrewd decision.
3. One more year for Disco … before Babs? We have to at least consider that Bylsma won’t be fired before next season, because that appears to be what Mario Lemieux is telling people. A new general manager might come in and kick him to the curb, or perhaps feel that Bylsma remains the best coach available for this team.
Key word: "Available."
If the Penguins are trying to go from “good” to “great,” there are few coaches that can get them there.
The talk is that they covet Mike Babcock. He has one more year left on his deal in Detroit. If Bylsma’s given one more season and the Penguins don’t win, Babcock will be available – if he doesn’t sign an extension and wants the gig, of course.
Whatever the case, we're sure it all comes down to what Pat Brisson, er, the Penguins think is best for their team.