Back in March, I made the case why the Pens should have considered a Lou Lamoriello approach by firing their coach in the final days of the season. The Devils did it to Robbie Ftorek and replaced him with Larry Robinson, then won the Stanley Cup. If GM Ray Shero didn’t believe this year’s Penguins would be much different than its recent failures, why not throw a change up?
It would have been a difficult and perhaps disruptive call, especially for a GM who selected Bylsma to lead the Team USA entry in Sochi. The late-season timing of the ouster would have been debatable – the sea change that would follow a Game 7 loss to the Rangers Tuesday is inevitable.
Whether or not you believe Bylsma has been outcoached in this series, past series, in the Olympics against Canada, or that he’s failed to keep his team’s leaders on a keel even enough to keep their eye on the task at hand, going five years without even coming close to another Stanley Cup final appearance* is far too long for a team that was once supposed to be a dynasty.
(*No, last year’s sweep in the conference final doesn’t qualify as coming close.)
If the Penguins fail to close out a series they held a 3-1 lead in – against what’s supposed to be an inferior opponent – it would have to be curtains for Bylsma. The end results to recent Penguins seasons have become way too similar to be able to move on with the same voice and have any great confidence in the direction. The unraveling of Sidney Crosby; the perception of being outcoached; the meltdown of a goalie. It’s time for a change.
And unlike my colleague Ken Campbell, I don’t believe the answer is to make a drastic overhaul to the roster. With the exception of Marc-Andre Fleury, this is a loaded team I’d be more inclined to try and run with under a different and more experienced coach before ripping down the core. Could the Penguins use more depth? Sure. But is that what you want to get out of trading Evgeni Malkin or James Neal? Heck no. Trading Malkin, or even Neal, would be a tremendous panic move. Better drafting, a shrewd signing or two and clearing out the deadwood currently in depth roles would help alleviate some of the current roster issues. Under a new coach, these are minor, fixable shortcomings.
When you think of it, five years is a long time for a professional athlete. If they are lucky enough to last for 20 years in the NHL, that allotted time would represent a quarter of their career. And when you consider a player’s peak years are much less than that, five years is an awful lot to cut out.
For Crosby and Malkin and the rest of this Penguins team filled with so much potential, all of those failed years have come under Bylsma. The core of the team (Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang) is signed for at least another three years – and in some of those cases, much, much longer than that. Since they have that term, there will still be plenty of time to trade any one of these guys for a strong return if the team doesn’t show anything different under a new coach. And with so many coaching options available this summer – and perhaps more to come – the time for a shift may be right.
If Fleury hasn’t already played himself out of Pittsburgh this summer, a loss would certainly lock that down. But since the rest of the team has shown so many of the same problems that have always come up in past post-seasons, Bylsma may have to win at least four more games after Tuesday’s to keep his job.
If the Penguins win Game 7, perhaps this all goes away and the discussion around Bylsma becomes moot.
But sometimes, coaches just need to go because a team locker room needs the fresh air of a new voice.
Who has the confidence Bylsma is the right guy for Pittsburgh anymore?