For the fifth consecutive postseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been eliminated by a lower seed, and now, extreme measures will certainly be taken this summer.
With experience in capturing Lord Stanley’s chalice and owning some of the most prolific – if not thee most prolific – players in the NHL, Pittsburgh has been anything but their 2009 Cup selves. And with expectations through the roof due to that firepower, the ousters are that much more devastating.
Especially to Pens’ fans, who, for the most part, were the only ones who showed up for Game 7 Tuesday night.
But because Pittsburgh has bowed out miserably once again, that almost entails Dan Bylsma’s reign as head coach to inevitably be terminated.
Winning the Cup in his first attempt at being the lead man behind the bench, honored as a Jack Adams Award recipient, and owning the most wins for a head coach in Pens’ franchise history, Bylsma just couldn’t find a way to replicate his team’s ’09 efforts.
Of course, you can’t completely throw him under the bus, because his team didn’t perform any better. However, it was Bylsma’s job to get them ready – and he didn’t.
Rarely seen expressing any type of emotion during these playoffs, Bylsma seemed more rattled that his team lost a 3-1 series lead, rather than lighting a fire under his collective. That was his problem; he failed to raise his team’s compete-level. And by the time they did come to play, it was too late.
Bylsma lost control of his squad.
It became evident when his players started committing erroneous penalties, retaliating at pivotal moments of the game, and voicing their displeasure to the officials. Pens’ fans have seen this charade far too often. So, if Bylsma isn’t the man who can put his players in their place, and discipline them – which he can’t – so long “Disco Dan.”
Next on the pecking order is general manager Ray Shero.
Widely regarded as the most spontaneous, yet trade-robbing, GMs in the league, Shero didn’t add any grit at the trade deadline, and has put his organization in a position to run into major salary issues with their bloated payroll.
Although he’s made due with what he could accomplish after signing superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to lucrative long-term deals, Shero hasn’t given them much to work with in terms of wing help. Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak are two players Shero acquired at the trade deadline to help in a number of areas, but in the end, they only proved to be soft players. Maybe not so much Stempniak, but Goc for sure.
And that’s what the identity of this team has become – soft.
Personally, I feel Shero should keep his job for another season. Just because he’s executed trades that haven’t panned out recently, doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of making up for it. Shero’s stockpiled Pittsburgh’s prospect pool with phenomenal talent and depth, and I’m sure he has an idea of how to maneuver around the salary cap issues. Shero is part of the problem, but only at a small volume.
Shero’s only dilemma, as I’ve alluded to earlier, is he’s got a plethora of brittle players filling up roster spots on the team – which explains why they had the most man-games lost this past regular-season. That, and skaters who just don’t comprehend coming through when it matters.
James Neal is a perfect candidate to be dealt this summer.
I don’t care if the Pens’ faithful loves this guy; he’s not fit for this team if they want to succeed. And I also don’t care that he’s buddy-buddy with Malkin – Neal is a choke artist.
Put this into perspective: although the team as a whole – including Crosby and Malkin – underperformed, Neal, who’s suppose to be a top-3 forward on the Pens, had less points than two defensemen (Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen), two third-line skaters (Beau Bennett, Brandon Sutter), and tied for scoring with a 19-year-old blueliner (Olli Maatta).
Not only were his measly four points (2G, 2A) in 13 games completely unacceptable for a player of his caliber, I didn’t see him put forth a single satisfactory performance other than Game 7 – which was too late. I mean, Bennett, who dressed for one less game and slung 35-less shots than Neal garnered one more point than him. If that doesn’t indicate something, I don’t know what will.
I thought Pittsburgh should have parted ways with defenseman Kris Letang, but after suffering a frightening stroke back in January, accompanied with his obnoxious contract (8-years, $58 million), the chances Shero will be able to ditch the turnover-happy, ex-Norris Trophy candidate are slim-to-none. They could buy-out another blueliner though.
Rob Scuderi, who was brought in for his leadership and prior Penguins’ familiarity, was awful. Caught flat-footed and looking slower than ever, Scuderi had problems clearing the puck and picking up his assignments. And considering he’s getting up there in age (35), and making $3.375 million per season, now would be a good time to just cut their losses.
For once, Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t the main catalyst as to why Pittsburgh was eliminated. And because he’s got one more year on his contract, the Pens’ starting netminder will presumably be back to finish out one more ride. Never thought I’d write that. However, there’s a number of players set to hit free agency that may not return.
Chris Conner, Deryk Engelland, Brian Gibbons, Tanner Glass, Goc, Jussi Jokinen, Niskanen, Taylor Pyatt, Stempniak, Joe Vitale, and Tomas Vokoun are all set to become unrestricted free agents – per Cap Geek. While I can envision Gibbons and Jokinen rejoining the squad next season, and possibly Vokoun if he doesn’t retire, I can’t see the rest following suit.
Problem for Pittsburgh is they’ve become too comfortable, and therefore less hungry and motivated to win the Cup. The disappointing aura needs to be altered, one way or another, before Crosby and Malkin are past their prime.
Heads will roll this offseason. Count on it.