Penguins 2013-2014 Season Post-Mortem: Who Stays, Who Goes and Why by @DXTraeger

Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma in happier days (photo by PuckBuddys.com)

The spectre of last night's series ending 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers looms large, and basks the once-glowing visages of GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma in shadow.  They may never again see the light of day as members of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

Gone are the smiles from the 2008 and 2009 Cup runs: they have been replaced by the grim jawline of team owner and legend Mario Lemieux.  Lemieux's one-time tenant and current Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby, scored only once in Pittsburgh's 13 playoff games, and is both a symbolic and literal symbol of everything that went wrong for the Black & Gold in the playoffs.

Crosby will once again captain the Penguins for the 2014-2015 campaign, but not much else is set in stone as the organization heads to a painful off-season that will be wrought with difficult decisions from the top on down.

In this first part of two, the roles of GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma will be examined, and their fates debated.

RAY SHERO, General Manager (signed through 2015-2016)

STAYING or GOING:  Staying

Rationale:  Shero's tenure as General Manager can be viewed through different prisms of evaluation criteria, yielding very different opinions as to whether or not Shero has helped or hurt the Penguins' continued efforts to win another championship.

First and foremost, Shero has negotiated a series of trades where Pittsburgh emerged as clear winners.  The crown jewel of his moves was sending a struggling Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars in return for mercurial winger-turned 40 goal scorer James Neal and diamond in the defensive rough find Matt Niskanen, but not all of his moves have had the same results (see: Kovalev, Alex and Ponikarovsky, Alex).

Shero's draft success is also subject to scrutiny, as he (and thus the Penguins) spent what first round picks they did not trade away on puck-moving defensemen, as such players are a high priority with Dan Bylsma's defensive breakout and transition hockey system (a lot more on that in a moment).

Shero was able to parlay some of these specialty players into trade deadline stopgap players like Jarome Iginla, but the Penguins have ultimately been playing with fire by not drafting offensive players and the organizational depth has suffered as a result.  As a result, the Penguins now feature a surplus of players that play approximately the same game and bring nothing new to the 6 available defensive slots at the NHL level.

Shero also condoned the "Superstar Model" which pays Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang each in excess of $7 million a year, with winger James Neal also taking in $5 million per season.  This has limited the financial resources the Penguins have to develop 4 solid lines under the salary cap, and Shero's complicity in signing these players to high contracts means the Penguins have to live and die with Crosby and Co. manning the ship.



 DAN BYLSMA, HEAD COACH (signed through 2015-2016)

STAYING or GOING:  Going.

Rationale:  For Bylsma, the proof is in the pudding: outside of the 2009 Cup Run (which he shared with Michel Therrien), the Penguins have never won even a single game in the Eastern Conference Finals, having been swept by the Boston Bruins in 2013.

Given an embarrassing wealth of individual talent, Bylsma's attempts to create a system of defense-to-offense transition scoring resulted in too many odd man breaks the other way, too many cutesy giveaways in the defensive zone, and a Saharian drought of scoring in the playoffs that ultimately doomed Pittsburgh against both Boston and New York.

When you factor in his inexplicable resistance to maximize line matchups and his stubborn insistence of plodding out ineffective powerplay units in lieu of trying different things, the decision to relieve Bylsma in favor of someone that will provide a defensive and trapping structure that was all but non-existent under Disco Dan is an easy one for both the organization and the fan base.

It is important to note that Ray Shero encouraged a contract extension for Bylsma that mirrored his own, symbolically linking their successes (and failures).  That Shero adhered to Bylsma's dogged model of transition offense could be simultaneously damning for Shero, but Shero's ability to swing big deals is a factor that should keep him in the Penguins portfolio (even if only for the short term).

Next week we will cover the lengthy list of Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents the Penguins will have to make decisions on, and break down what roles the players may have under a new coach and system.

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1 comments:

  1. This whole playoff run had a strange feel for me. Normally when the Pens make it to the tournament, excitement is rampant and fans are clamoring about how their boys are going to trounce the competition. That wasn't the case for the large majority.

    Minds were filled with anxiety more than anything else. Waiting to see which team would show up from game to game. Fans never really got fully behind the team since they never had any consistent performance to get pumped. I found myself sitting back in apprehension of a blown play far more than anticipating an awesome Pens goal. This goes against what sports are expected to feel like when your team is in the running.

    I never really got on the Fire Disco Train, but I think we have (for the most part) all arrived at that place now. I do believe there is a problem that lies deeper than just Dan. Like, how Sid has no problem chirping back at him and being all around defiant at times. Maybe he sees the shortcomings of the coach, or maybe it's his ego getting in the way. Either way, they need a big shift in another direction.

    When the ax starts swinging, I won't be shocked to find out who gets hit. My only curiosity is to see if anyone tries to stand up for those taking the hit. The most ideal outcome, for me, is to see the team stand up for those around them. Not the normal PR BS that comes in interviews about how guys compete and all that mess. I'm talking about putting their asses in the spotlight to show they stand by the product they put forth. Own up to it so to speak.

    Going forward, I'm somewhat relieved at the idea of some freshness with the team. I just hope other fans realize that this isn't something that is likely to turn around in a single offseason. It will take time and patience to get back to where they were in 09. Let's all hope it happens before we lose the prime of some of the NHLs brightest stars.

    Go Pens

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