When You Point the Finger, Evaluating Dan Bylsma and Ray SheroPosted: 10/06/2013
In the mainstream media everyone has already decided on their scapegoat, Dan Bylsma, and at least in their arguments they seem to have plenty of good cause: 4 years of elimination at the hands of a lower-seeded opponent, the first Penguins coach to be swept in the playoffs in 34 years, a losing record in the postseason since his historic 2009 Cup win. But they are decidedly wrong. If you had wanted to pick this fight with me last year or the previous two years I wouldn’t have argued, but the problem against Boston was not a failure of coaching, it was a failure of the players to listen, or to CARE to execute. And that’s all fine and dandy, but if you ask me, you have to go up another level to find the culprit behind this collapse.
Yes, in fact, I am talking about Ray Shero. The architect of the most talent laden roster since the inception of the salary cap is the guy that I think is most culpable for this team’s collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals (if you can ever collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals, even if you’re swept and get outscored 12-2, I mean you’re still one of the four best teams in the league right?). And here’s why: he overspent his hand. Now, here us out, we’re not going to pretend that Shero should be fired, and we’re definitely not saying that he hasn’t made some amazing moves: just think about where the Pens would have been if he hadn’t made a move on the “washed up” Tomas Vokoun. But when it comes right down to it, answer yourself this, did his deadline moves work? If you answer yes you must be a Bruins fan. Get the explanation after the jump.
Shero seemed to get involved in a bidding war against the Bruins, at least with his two most high profile acquisitions, Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla, and it became more about putting those players in a Penguins jersey than it did with addressing the real organizational needs. Those are moves that Paul Holmgren and Glen Sather are expected to make, not King Shero. Shero caught himself chasing names on the back of the sweater rather than doing what was best for the crest on the front it. Not to say “I told you so,” but we (and many others) adamantly wrote that the Pens didn’t NEED Jarome Iginla to have a shot at a Cup, and sure enough, the Bruins, who seemingly got shut out from “improving” their team at the deadline sure made the Penguins pay the price this round with their uncanny team chemistry.
You can’t tell me in the miniscule minutes of the miniscule games that he played in that Beau Bennett wasn’t better than either Iginla or Morrow. If the whole purpose in acquiring both of those two players was to fill out the Penguins top-6 forwards (not that Morrow ever did it) and Beau still proved to be better than either of those players (especially in the defensive zone) that that was a good trade to make. And then, because they were highly touted, highly coveted trade targets, the Penguins had no choice to keep going with them even when they made truly bad plays. Not to mention that if this were soccer Jarome would have gone down for contributing the series clinching goal for the Bruins, scoring an own-goal off his stick when he foolishly tried to block Adam McQuaid’s harmless long-range slapper.
So basically, Shero made a lot of trades, in fact more trades than the Penguins had need for. After making all of those trades Bylsma was left with the unenviable task of making those new players fit without destroying the existent team chemistry, and he was give ten regular season games to make it happen. For a while it worked, but then when adversity set in, against the Bruins, there wasn’t enough chemistry for the players or coaches to make their voices adequately understood. Nobody here is going to doubt that Iginla and Morrow came to Pittsburgh with all the humility they talked about in their first interviews, but if the players sat down and started to critique one another who is to say that they felt any need to listen. That’s the problem with chemistry and being a new guy in the locker room, especially a new guy that’s going to the Hall of Fame, you don’t have the sense of camaraderie that you had with your former team, and they won’t know how to talk to you. Again, it’s not a big deal when things are going well, it becomes a bigger issue when the Penguins ran into adversity against the Bruins.
So now hopefully we’ve addressed the question of who is to blame, but what that doesn’t answer is will Dan Bylsma get fired? And my answer is probably yes although it wouldn’t have been that before yesterday. In his season ending press conference yesterday Bylsma spoke openly and with candor about the goaltending situation, and his response:
(Marc-Andre Fleury) is the No. 1 goalie for this franchise and will be going forward. He’s going to take the net and be the No. 1 goalie and be great. There’s no question about that. He’s going to win a lot of hockey games for this team next season. He’ll have that opportunity in the playoffs again when this team gets there.
No question Bylsma saved his job by turning to Tomas Vokoun in Game 5 of the Conference Quarters. Now he seems intent to lose it by ignoring objective reality. Nobody should be guaranteed a spot for the following season, and nobody should be guaranteed that spot less than Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only did Vokoun save the Penguins’ bacon, but he actually excelled and played some fantastic hockey. His goals against and save percentage are both among the top-5 in the postseason. If that didn’t earn him an opportunity to at the very least compete for the starting job next year Vokoun might as well hold out. But as always, MAF deserves his own separate post, so we will deal with that later.
The bottom line is this, I don’t know that the Pens need to change their upper management, more than anything they need to change the guys on the ice and that comes next.