PITTSBURGH -- Dealing with the Pittsburgh Penguins' unexpectedly early playoff ouster is tough enough for general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma. What follows could be tougher still – sorting out what went wrong while figuring out how to keep their core of stars together.
Shero said Tuesday this will be "a big summer" for the Penguins, who plan to go about business as usual even though a new collective bargaining agreement still must be worked out. And big probably translates into busy.
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"We have a lot of things moving forward that we have to work on -- decisions we have to make. We're going to take the next two months probably to sort through this," Shero said.
The Penguins currently have minimal salary cap room, but are expected to make a push to upgrade along the blue line as a result of their numerous defensive breakdowns and special teams deficiencies during their six-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinals loss to Philadelphia. The Flyers averaged five goals per game and converted 52 percent of their power-play chances.
"We believe in how we play, we believe in what we do. But our play was uncharacteristic. We weren't at our best," Bylsma said.
Even as they determine how to fix their playoff-exposed problems, the Penguins want to begin contract extension talks as soon as possible with franchise star Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, their elite two-way center. Both players are signed through next season.
While the Crosby talks are expected to go smoothly once the CBA is settled, re-signing Staal could be a major challenge. Staal said he "loves" playing in Pittsburgh, but he could command a lucrative contract if he plays out his current deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2013.
"He's a complete player. He plays against team's top players. He's able to produce offensively as well," Crosby said of Staal, who had a 25-goal, 50-point season despite missing one-quarter of it with a knee injury. "He's a big part of our team. As far as contracts, that's stuff you leave up to guys individually and they'll handle that."
Next season, the Penguins owe Crosby, Malkin and Staal $21.4 million -- or about one-third of their salary cap space.
Moving to another team would allow Staal to fill a higher-profile role, possibly as a No. 1 center, and command a premium wage, but he is reluctant to leave a team he likes.
"Talking to guys who came and left, they always have a soft spot for Pittsburgh," Staal said. "They loved playing here. I love being here and love the guys in the room. That's a huge factor for myself."
Shero considers it a priority to maintain the Penguins' down-the-middle strength of Crosby, scoring champion Evgeni Malkin and Staal, but realizes it could be cost prohibitive to keep all three. Malkin's contract runs out after the 2013-14 season.
"They're three great players," Shero said. "These are assets that have really delivered for us in the past. We just need to figure out where we are going to have to go in the future."
Asked whether it's possible to get deals done with both Crosby and Staal, Shero said, "I'm not sure."
Even with all of their top-tier talent, the Penguins have lost three of four playoff rounds since they raised the Stanley Cup in June 2009.
"They've achieved a lot, but this League's tough," Shero said. "We see it now. There are 19 teams like us sitting out right now; some real good ones, too. It's a school of hard knocks and we're going to see if we can bounce back."
Despite the Penguins' second opening-round playoff loss in as many seasons, Shero expects Bylsma to return in 2012-13. Assistant coaches Tony Granato, Todd Reirden and Gilles Meloche also are expected back.
"He's the right coach for this hockey team," Shero said. "We are fortunate to have him."