Bylsma likely done in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season is over. They have disappointed again.
They didn’t even get as far as they did last year, exiting in the second round after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers at the Consol Energy Center.
The Rangers won the last three games to eliminate the Pens and launch a tumultuous offseason that is certain to bring major changes.
Start with coach Dan Byslma, who is almost sure to be gone. The Pens have been knocked out of the playoffs by lower-seeded teams five straight years.
For an organization that has championship expectations, that isn’t acceptable. It’s time for a change.
The Penguins haven’t beaten a good team in the playoffs since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the final.
That was Bylsma’s first season, one in which he took over in February. The Penguins rallied under his laid-back style, relieved to be rid of Michel Therrien’s hard-driving methods.
Since then, though, the team’s success has been confined to the regular season. The NHL’s dirty secret is the regular season doesn’t matter, other than serving to set the playoff field.
General manager Ray Shero reaffirmed his faith in Bylsma last spring when he gave him a contract extension just when most people were expecting a change.
Will that work against Shero? Probably not. Making a change at the GM position changes an entire organization, and that’s a huge step.
Shero is not blameless in this. The Penguins’ roster is a strange mash-up of superstars and borderline players. In the playoffs, it becomes important to roll four solid lines in tight-checking games.
When the Penguins try to do that, they wind up gifting ice time to players who should probably be in the minor leagues. Shero has a challenge that most GMs don’t. He has elite talent whose contracts consume a large portion of the salary cap.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room for middle class-level players. Thus the bottom of the roster tends to be stocked with minimum-wage players. The lack of balance becomes a significant postseason problem.
Back to Bylsma – even in the playoffs, he was trying to construct lines around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Spring is no time for experimentation.
The Penguins were hurt when Pascal Dupuis’ season ended because of knee surgery. But that happened in December. There was plenty of time to find alternatives that worked. In May, the Penguins were still trying to fit pieces together by trial and error, mostly the latter.
There isn’t a lot of significant roster flexibility. The high-priced stars generally have no-trade or limited-trade clauses. Some teams can’t even consider taking on a salary that big.
This post-mortem would have a completely different feel if Crosby had done more. He was below average in the playoffs, and no one seems to know why. Was he hiding an injury? Was he wiped out after a long season that also included the Olympics? Have opponents figured out a way to neutralize him?
His body language and that strange wry smile sent all the wrong signals. The captain didn’t lead anyone.
That’s one of the issues that needs to be settled.
Put it on the “to do” list for the Penguins’ new coach.
Mehno can be reached at email@example.com