Penguins Okay with Second Best – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Okay with Second Best

After reading Phil Krundle’s passionate, well-thought, and superbly crafted feature on the state of the Penguins (and coach Dan Bylsma), I almost didn’t post this piece. It’s not nearly as comprehensive as Phil’s, but it represents a different point of view. In that spirit I decided to post it:

I never thought I’d see the day when the Penguins organization embraced being second best. Certainly not with Mario Lemieux at the helm.

That’s why I had a hard time believing my ears this past Wednesday when GM Ray Shero attributed his team’s early playoff exits to parity. Maybe I’m taking his comments out of context. But it sure sounded like Shero was rationalizing the Pens’ postseason failures instead of taking a hard look at the root causes. Perhaps if he had, he wouldn’t have been so quick to offer coach Dan Bylsma a two-year contract extension.

It’s difficult to explain Shero’s unwavering confidence in Bylsma. It’s not as if the 42-year-old coach was leading a bunch of ham-and-eggers this spring. This was a deep and talented team—favored by many to win the Stanley Cup.

pp0397Michel Therrien should’ve been so fortunate. Eight months after guiding a rising young Penguins squad to the Finals in 2008 (seven months after signing a contract extension) Shero gave him the boot. Granted, the team was in the midst of a desperate slide and needed a change. But there are many—including myself—who feel Therrien laid the structural foundation for the 2009 Cup winners.

Back to Bylsma. It’s not that he doesn’t possess many admirable qualities. He’s a genuinely good guy. His players love him. He’s popular with the fans. He represents the franchise well. He’s enjoyed a ton of regular-season success—and has a Jack Adams Award on his mantle as proof.

In a way he reminds me of former University of Pittsburgh football coach Dave Wannstedt. A “Pittsburgh guy” through and through, Wannstedt was a wonderful recruiter and ambassador for the Pitt football program. He wasn’t a great coach and wasn’t going to lead the Panthers to a national title, but that wasn’t the expectation.

It’s a different dynamic with Bylsma and the Pens. In each of the past four seasons the black and gold have been touted as legitimate Cup contenders. And each year the team has gone belly-up in the playoffs.  Give the Bowling Green grad a pass for 2011, when the Pens lost to Tampa Bay without big guns Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, you can’t absolve him of blame for the other postseason flops.

Kevin Pawlos, a prominent local amateur player and former teammate of Boston defenseman Matt Bartkowski, said the Penguins never adjusted to the Bruins in the recent Conference Finals. They kept trying to beat Boston’s 1-2-2 with stretch passes, a tactic that failed miserably. Along those lines, who can forget our dreadful penalty killing against Philadelphia last year? The penalty-killers chased Philly’s point-men all series long (with nary an adjustment) and got burned to the tune of a dozen power-play goals.

That’s Bylsma’s modus operandi…and Achilles Heel. He only knows one style. While opposing coaches like Boston’s Claude Julien work to get favorable match-ups, the Pens skipper is notoriously reluctant to make adjustments. It’s puck-possession or bust.

It’s one thing to stick to your guns. It’s another matter entirely to stick to your guns when what you’re doing doesn’t work. That, I believe, is the definition of insanity.

So, for that matter, is extending the contract of a coach who has yet to truly prove he can win in the playoffs.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
available at TriumphBooks.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com

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  1. Kencho's Gravatar Kencho
    June 29, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    If Letang accepts the offer, where does that leave Duper and Iginla?

  2. Pens Fan_State College's Gravatar Pens Fan_State College
    June 25, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    4 early exits is unacceptable. Bylsma needs to go. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

  3. June 17, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick, Fantastic stuff as usual, still have to disagree.

    Dan Bylsma did make changes and adjustments. I saw it, Ray Shero said it. Sidney Crosby said the game plans were sound, it was his and the other players fault they were not able to get the puck past Rask. The Penguins out shot the Bruins by 15 shots the last two games.

    I’m sorry but all Therrien laid the ground work for was failure, just as he did again this year. He is a crappy coach who was lucky enough to get Marion Hossa at the deadline. What are his post season accolades? The team quit on him just like every other team he has coached. Keep this in mind when you look at Therrien’s record, not being able to reach the post season is a post season failure, just ask Philadelphia.

    All 30 GM’s will tell you that making it to the Conference Finals any year is not a post season failure.

    All 30 of those GM’s will also tell you that the true definition of insanity would be to fire a coach that in five years has Won a Stanley Cup, Won Coach of the year, made the playoffs all five years and the true insanity kicker would be to fire him in a year he had the best record in the entire Eastern Conference and made it to the Eastern Conference finals.

    The Lemieux/Burkle ownership is not playing for second best, to say that with the money they spent this year and every year is just a bit silly.

    Dan Bylsma brings a very exciting brand of hockey to Pittsburgh. He is the lead candidate to coach team USA in the Olympics next year for a reason. I do not want to trade away our superstars for draft picks and mediocre players and I especially do not want to watch 82 games of extremely boring New Jersey Devils style trap clutch & grab style hockey all year. The Pens can play boring hockey in 10 years when we no longer have the two best players in the NHL.

    • RINIGJG's Gravatar RINIGJG
      June 17, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      I think some of it is that there was such high expectations the last few years (especially this year) to at least make the Stanley Cup finals. Shero comes out and says “Bylsma is the man”…but didn’t address as much the dissapointment in the team or coaching. Or Phil, from your article, that he through too much at him to manage. I think as fans, we want to see some change. I certainly don’t want to go through a great regular season, only to have us under-perform in the playoffs. GO PENS!

      • RINIGJG's Gravatar RINIGJG
        June 17, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        threw not through. Correcting my own grammar and word usage.

      • June 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        RINIGJG the point of my article was to say that changing 1/5 of the team by bringing in older/slower players that didn’t fit the team right before the playoffs didn’t help. The guys Shero brought in were not only unable to beat out the Pens present top six players, they were too slow and unable to fill the roles of 3/4 liners and penalty killers also. Yet, Bylsma had to play them or face the wrath of the media and most likely get fired.

        There is no longer a need to wonder why both Iginla & Morrow’s teams had the Cap space to sign their Captains yet let them go. No need to wonder why Jokinen was put on waivers by Carolina and not one team claimed him right before the Penguins picked him up. The media and the writers here (other than Joey Wales) built up expectations under a false pretense.

        This is why I can’t wait until next year. Salary Cap restrictions will make it hard for Shero to bring players just because he can. He will have to try harder and get what the Penguins need.

        • RINIJG's Gravatar RINIJG
          June 18, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink


          I understand why you wrote the article and I get your point. Teams always try and bring in big talent to help there team at the deadline. While Shero brought talent in it was the wrong talent for the team. Happened several years with the Flyers. They would bring in a big name, and it never helped them. (Although I am happy about that.) I just think we expect more from our team as Rick stated and was upset when there wasn’t more stated about how we did not step up to the plate. Yes, we can analyze each year why we didn’t go further. However, if you are putting a lot of money in certain players, you expect them to step it up more. Understand Blysma had nowhere to put the new players. We all thought, Wow he has so much talent he should of been able to figure out how to play them. However, you article states we should be blaming Shero more “GM of the Year”.

          • June 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

            We’ll see, it looks like Chicago is having the same problems the Pens were having. The great equalizer is the NHL not calling interference. It puts greatly skilled teams on the same level as lesser skilled. Then it comes down to goaltending. You can have the greatest team in the world, if the other team holds you the whole time it just doesn’t matter.

  4. RINIGJG's Gravatar RINIGJG
    June 17, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I think we all can speculate and have different opinions as to why the Penguins have not gone farther in the playoffs. Maybe we just have excellent players, not a good team. Remember 1993. Maybe Bylsma only has one game and it just doesn’t work. (However, the Pens never got to “their” game, so we may never know.) I believe Bylsma will have to make noticeable changes next year, or I believe Shero will eventually fire him. Contract or not. While I agree, Therrien may of set the groundwork, the players were not going to play for him, so Shero had to make a change. And finally maybe we are just a great regular season team.

    Hopefully, there will be some good changes next year so Bylsma can find a way to make the players into an excellent team. GO PENS!

  5. Pen's 4ever's Gravatar Pen's 4ever
    June 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I agree..I really like Dan, but great coaches have to make adjustments during a game

  6. June 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Bylsma can’t even adjust the volume on his TV.

  7. June 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Bylsma can’t even adjust the volume on his TV.

  8. June 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    The Bylsma backers are delusional and I still don’t understand why underachieving in the postseason is just fine with them.

  9. June 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    The Bylsma backers are delusional and I still don’t understand why underachieving in the postseason is just fine with them.

  10. Melisa's Gravatar Melisa
    June 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely dead on! Wish the Bylsma backers would understand this!

  11. Melisa's Gravatar Melisa
    June 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely dead on! Wish the Bylsma backers would understand this!


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