After blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round, the Pittsburgh Penguins fired general manager Ray Shero on Friday. They retained coach Dan Bylsma, but it's clear that this summer is going to be a very interesting one for a Penguins team that has been underperforming in the playoffs for some time now.
I previously mentioned that they were going to have their big, exhaustive internal meeting with co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and team president David Morehouse. They did their full evaluation of the franchise and where they want to go and what they need to do to get there.
The franchise has had a lot of success through a lot of key injuries to a lot of guys, from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin to Kris Letang to Jordan Staal when he was there. These are all key performers. That being said, the expectation there is to be a Stanley Cup winner or at least compete for a Cup. They won one and lost one in the Cup Final, but since then their playoff performance has left a lot to be desired.
The way that a lot of these playoffs have come to an end for them has been head-scratching. A lot of the same things seem to be happening. The team unravels, Crosby gets pushed off his game.
You look at it and it's just a confusing state. The biggest thing for me was their style of play. No one really came to the defense of Crosby physically. Their style of play is all about "go north," but last time I looked at a compass there also was east and west. There isn't enough of that in their game. Who's doing the give and go in their game? Outside of James Neal and Malkin, there isn't much give and go to their game.
I remember playing the Penguins five years ago and they would screw you into the ice because there was so much motion in their game. They crossed you up, and then once they crossed the blue line and had you in zone they had you in a spin cycle. That doesn't happen now. They can turn it on every once in a while but it's not a consistent threat.
In terms of their personnel, they needed to make some changes.
I knew the winds of change would be blowing but I didn't think it would be Shero to go first, if at all. I thought it would be Bylsma just based on how things go in sports. Either way, Bylsma and Shero are good hockey people. Whatever happens moving forward, they will get more opportunities.
After the Penguins' big announcement Friday there are a lot more questions surrounding the franchise than answers. Will Jason Botterill stay on as GM or assistant GM? How does Lemieux want this team to play? This team doesn't play Mario Lemieux hockey; they really don't. So how does he want them to play? And who is going to lead them in doing that? It's going to be a new GM at some point, but what is the system and what players will you get to fit that?
Whoever the new GM is will be very busy. They have a lot of roster spots to fill and not a lot of cap space. I love the way Matt Niskanen plays but he's an unrestricted free agent, so what do you do there? Some people are saying they should trade Malkin, but can you really do that? What do you get in return?
Jussi Jokinen is a very good, versatile player. He can play in your top six and on your first-unit power play. He had a tremendous season. Now all of a sudden he can be an unrestricted free agent. Can you afford to lose him? I don't think so. That's a very valuable player who is a nice fit and likes playing there. Those guys are hard to come by.
I don't think it's doom and gloom in Pittsburgh by any stretch. They have good players, including some good, young prospects. But I don't think overall their prospect stable is as deep as it could be, especially given the importance of drafting and developing. This is not a rebuild. There are a lot of teams that do envy where Pittsburgh is right now. They might not envy how the playoffs have gone but they envy what they have on their roster. It's world-class talent.
Either way it's going to be a really interesting summer in Pittsburgh.
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