In the course of 19 seconds, the Pittsburgh Penguins' season turned upside down on February 14, 2009.
It was a long time coming for the Pens who shamefully held a 27-25-5 record, sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. On a team that claimed the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal, stars brimming with skill and untapped potential, such a record was reprehensible. A waste of young talent.
So on the day we celebrate the fuzzy feelings and selfless act we call love, Pens fans watched in misery as the team put on their worst show of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jason Blake took the Pens one-goal lead and turned it into a Leafs lead before the first goal could be announced. What resulted was the Valentine's Day Massacre and Michel Therrien was sent to the guillotine the next day in favor of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Dan Bylsma. Pittsburgh welcomed him graciously, knowing the change was desperately needed. Four months later, Bylsma's name was engraved alongside some of the greatest coaches in NHL history.
He's remained in Pittsburgh the last four years, but his time as head coach hasn't resulted in the illustrious career we hoped, especially when he set the bar so high when he first came to the Steel City.
Let's take a look at his record in Pittsburgh:
It's interesting to see that the Pens have consistently increased their points total and wins in the regular season, but have consistently done worse with each playoff run. Last season's run against the Philadelphia Flyers was the lowest of the low, a loss that Bylsma didn't take well, as we would imagine.
Looking at the regular season numbers, Bylsma has done an impressive job with the Pens. As of the end of last season, he claims the highest win percentage in Penguins coaching history. Seeing that Bylsma was the fourth-longest tenured coach in Pens history (as of now, he's the second-longest), this speak volumes. Especially considering how Bylsma kept the Pens afloat when Crosby and Malkin were injured, earning him the 2011 Jack Adams Award for best coach, this guy isn't a bad coach.
However, championships aren't won in the regular season and numbers don't tell the whole story. Over the last few seasons, I've noticed Bylsma absorbing a lot of criticism when the Pens went through bad stretches. Nothing new here; people, namely fans, want someone to be held accountable and usually this criticism spreads to many of the players as well. But lately, Bylsma has been catching some heat even when the Pens have been winning. This varies from ill-timed timeouts, questionable lines, and overall poor coaching decisions. In the playoffs, the phrase "Bylsma was out-coached" was frequently used and there is significant proof to those claims.
As many of us learned in the Stanley Cup DVD, one of Bylsma's favorite phrases is, "Why not?" which, I believe, is why Bylsma makes many of the decisions he makes. He's constantly trying different lines to see which players can find the perfect chemistry. However, the downside to constantly changing lines is it can become impossible for chemistry to develop. Instant chemistry is a rarity.
All things considered, we're in an interesting predicament with Bylsma. His regular season success is there for all to see, but three consecutive early eliminations from the playoffs isn't acceptable (though the 2010-11 elimination can be argued since the Pens were without the likes of Crosby and Malkin). Bylsma has become a polarizing figure in the Pens organization and many demanded Shero fire him, considering the early playoff exits. Others tend to blame the players first. Both are fair expressions and, if things really go sour, history shows us it's easier to change a coach rather than change an entire team.
What happens in the course of this season and playoffs could play a hand in Bylsma's future. Another early playoff exit with a healthy squad could jeopardize his job. As we all saw with Therrien, the Pens can't be fielding a team with the names Crosby, Malkin, and Neal and not go deep in the playoffs. It's unacceptable and a waste. The tricky part, as with any team in this situation, is making sure the right people are being held accountable.
Do I feel the last few playoff exists are only Bylsma's fault? No. Are they only certain players' fault? No. There's plenty of blame to go around. But ultimately, if this trend continues, someone will have to pay a price and Bylsma could very well be that guy.
Conveniently, talks of the 2014 Olympics have begun and Dan Bylsma has been named as a potential head coach for Team USA. Kinda kills the "fire Bylsma" sentiment to an extent.
No matter how you look at it, Bylsma inked his name as a hero in Penguins organization the second Marc-Andre Fleury made the last-second save on Nick Lidstrom in 2009. That will never be taken away from him. However, patience is beginning to waver for many and the core players aren't getting any younger.
Depending on how the Penguins finish this season, Shero may have some re-evaluating to do.