First thing’s first: congratulations to the New York Rangers on pulling out a 2-1 Game 7 win over Pittsburgh. Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves, many of the spectacular variety, and the Blueshirts played with discipline (taking only a pair of penalties) for the right to face the victor of Wednesday’s Game 7 between Boston and Montreal. But until the Eastern Conference final begins, the bigger story is what will happen to the Penguins, who choked on a 3-1 series lead and were outscored 10-3 in their final three games.
It’s safe to assume we’ve seen the last of Dan Bylsma as Pens head coach. This team was expected to be dynasty material, but since they won a Stanley Cup in 2009, they’ve only made it as far as the conference final once and were swept by the Bruins when they were there. It’s certainly not all his fault, but NHL coaches are getting cashiered for much flimsier reasons than the Penguins need to change things up behind their bench. If you’re looking for a landing place for former Predators coach Barry Trotz, Pittsburgh could turn out to be a very good guess.
But the changes in store for the Pens extends into the roster. With the team lacking salary cap flexibility (and that’s putting it kindly), GM Ray Shero faced some tough decisions to begin with, especially when it came to re-signing unrestricted free agents Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. However, after this loss, the idea of breaking up their world-class one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will gain traction, if not in management, then among the fan base.
This was unthinkable as recently as last year, but when Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are held goalless for the final two games against the Rangers and combined for just one power play goal in the playoffs (and just seven goals, six by Malkin, in 13 post-season games), it’s fair to consider what balance might be brought to the lineup if Malkin is dealt. Right now, there’s no balance to the Pens. Compared to the defending champion Hawks, they’re not as deep or flexible in the type of game they’re able to play.
We should also prepare to see the end of the Marc-Andre Fleury Era in Pittsburgh. For the benefit of my friends in the comment section below, let me stress that Fleury was at times in this postseason the Pens’ best player. The problem is, he wasn’t their best player every game, and his best save percentage in the Penguins’ final five playoff games was still only a sub-par .900 in Game 7. Whether it’s via amnesty buyout or trade, Fleury needs a fresh start in another market. Nobody is saying he can’t re-establish himself, but too much has happened in his current market to see him coming back for the 2014-15 campaign.
The Pens have top-end talent other teams would kill for. But the reason they’ll be breaking up this squad this summer is because they didn’t have a dynamic equilibrium that extended throughout the lineup. Shero will have, and very likely utilize every chance to change that in the weeks to come.