After the Penguins were embarrassingly eliminated in the first round last postseason, changes were vowed and changes were made.
Jordan Staal was traded for Brandon Sutter and a few defensive prospects, Zbynek Michalek was traded back to Phoenix, and Arron Asham was let go. Dan Bylsma, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury all stayed but the leash was noticeably shorter heading into the 2013 season.
Once again, the regular season showed promise from all Penguin personnel as the team rattled off 15 straight wins en route to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Marc-Andre Fleury had a solid season, Kris Letang became a Norris Trophy candidate, and Dan Bylsma looked like a genius behind the bench.
But that all changed once the playoffs started up. Fleury was benched after having a horrific three games against the Islanders, Letang reverted back to his old playoff self by trying to do too much and playing out of control, and Dan Bylsma struggled to adjust.
After playing two cupcake teams in the first two rounds, the Penguins were swept out of Boston in the Eastern Conference Final. The team that won a Stanley Cup on defense and goaltending two years ago, shutout the Penguins twice in four games while only surrendering two goals in that span.
For the Penguins, it means back to the drawing board and after the last four years of embarrassing defeats, it’s time for a new artist.
Dan Bylsma was the perfect fit when he came to Pittsburgh late in the 2009 season. The Penguins were in 13th place and they completely shut themselves off from the daily beatings of Michel Therrien. With Bylsma, the teams saw a player’s coach, one who was calm and confident in his abilities. It turned out to be the perfect formula as the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
But that was four years ago and the relaxed attitude has now settled in a little too well with the locker room. How many times has this team come out flat in a playoff game? How often have you seen them fail to make any adjustments, stubbornly trying to push “their game” on the other team despite the fact that it’s not working? That directly falls on the coach.
Yes, players play the game. They are the ones on the ice skating, passing, shooting, turning the puck over and taking dumb penalties. But after seeing countless cross-ice passes into the teeth of the Bruins’ defense why wasn’t there a change in philosophy? How many times did we see a scoring chance near the crease or a shot off a rebound? Either the coaches didn’t tell the players to go to the net (unlikely), or the coaches did tell them and got completely ignored.
Either way, it’s time for Dan Bylsma to go.
Someone needs to come in with an understanding of defensive hockey. They need to be able to make adjustments before falling into a 2-0 series hole and they need to have the ability to put the ego on hold and recognize that their system isn’t perfect and may need tweaking along the way.
They also need to play hall of fame right wing players at their natural position at right wing instead of forcing them, uncomfortably, to play another position. There was no reason for Jarome Iginla to ever be on the left wing. Ever.
Speaking of playing players, what was the reason for having Simon Despres sit for fifteen regular season games and most of the playoffs? Mark Eaton was solid in the regular season, and Deryk Engelland held his own, but in the playoffs the speed of the game was just too much for those two. Despres has speed, vision, and size to boot. His chemistry with Kris Letang has been well documented yet the two rarely saw the ice together during the playoffs. Why?
The list of complaints goes on for quite awhile but, above everything else, the fact is Dan Bylsma was handed an all-star team and failed to get out of a very weak Eastern Conference. His team had more captains and leadership than it had goals. And yet, instead of raising the silver chalice at the end of the season, or even reaching the final series to compete for that trophy, Bylsma’s team is bowing out in the Eastern Conference Finals; swept for the first time since 1979.