I'm sure most fans are just coming up for air after the terribly disappointing Eastern Conference Final series vs Boston. For a season that ended in a relatively successful way, I think most people are really disillusioned in many respects. I usually don't post, but this is an important point in the franchise's history and thought I'd weigh in.
Overall, this was a weird series. The first game had some positives, but the second was terrible. I thought the coaching staff made some good adjustments and actually played a better game away from home (although the Pens record at Consol during the playoffs must be pretty poor by now). Games 3 and 4 showed a lot more of the Pens' "getting to their game", doing well with possession in the Boston zone and limiting the dangerous shots against.
I know a lot of the advanced stats guys were expecting the Pens to get upset due to their high and unsustainable PDO in the regular season, NHL Numbers. I doubt anyone thought the Pens' shooting would fall off the table like it did, even if it was reasonable that it would. It was clear from watching the games that the line combinations weren't working, even guys like Kunitz and Crosby who have played together for ages were running into each other. While I give full credit to Boston and Rask, getting 2 goals in 4 games when getting a good number of shots is just bad luck.
Looking forward, what are Mario's problems and options? I'm sure he doesn't share his thoughts, but here is what I would do, starting from the top down.
GM Ray Shero
He doesn't lace them up, but I think the halo he has been wearing is showing some tarnish. Although heralded in the mainstream hockey media, his moves seemed to me to be more about doing something rather than building to a plan. While scouting is an uncertain business, there was a lot of evidence that guys like Iginla, Morrow and Murray would not be great fits for Bylsma's system. Talking to fans of these teams made it clear that none of these guys had the legs any more to play an up tempo game. I was pleasantly surprised by the contribution of Murray, who surprised me as being the only Swede in the history of the NHL who can't skate well.
I wonder if the price and reputation of Iginla and Morrow kept them out of the press box? I thought Jokinen was a good addition and contributed when he was in the lineup. Certainly, it'll be good to see what he can do over a full season. Regardless, the team went "all in", giving up a ton of assets for a Conference Final appearance. That has to rebound on the GM. The moves didn't make sense except for the sense that a trade was made to make a trade that might possibly address a hole in the roster. I know that there weren't perfect matches waiting to be acquired at a reasonable price. Still, giving up valuable assets in the hope that something positive might happen smacks of desperation rather than planning.
I think a bigger issue is scouting with respect to the draft. I haven't done an exhaustive search, but it looks like the last two regular, drafted players to enter the lineup are Letang and Kennedy. The team gets credit for bringing in FA guys like Engelland, Lovejoy and Letestu, but a reason why there is room for guys like this is that there is little pressure on the bottom of the roster with guys from Wilkes-Barre. The two crown jewels before the most recent draft, Joe Morrow and Simon Despres, ended up healthy scratches and there is little in the pipeline up front except for Bennett and some good prospects that are 2 years away. Plus, the first pick in the draft is at 77 after the recent trades.
I would certainly look to make changes in the scouting department, if not the GM position.
Coach Dan Bylsma
I was a big Therrien fan. I first saw him coaching in the QMJHL. He brought a level discipline and responsibility to a franchise that very often lacked it. Still, I respect the job the Bylsma has done. I think, as we've seen with Tortarella, that every coach has a shelf-life. Given that Dan appears to be a player's coach, that may be a while in the future, but it seems that this team has bad habits that keep reappearing, especially a loss of composure.
I could understand a change may happen, but there are bigger issues.
Captain Sid Crosby
Sid is an amazing, dedicated athlete. Everything I know of him speaks to his commitment, so I hate to say anything negative about him. However, I wonder if he was moved to a leadership role too early in his career? Not every great player makes a great captain and this responsibility may sit too heavily on his shoulders. I'm not suggesting that he be stripped of the C, especially as it is unclear who would be better and around long term. However, I wonder if the lack of discipline and stupid behavior is addressed well with the current leadership group as events like the gong show game 2 this year and several of the games vs Philly last year showed signs of lack of on ice leadership.
There are a lot of decisions to be made and I think the window of opportunity may be closed with the current group. There should be a lot of player movement this summer with the cap going down and with potential buyouts, so this may be a time to get younger by letting good soldiers like Dupuis, Adams and Cooke go. These are real contributors, but given their likely salary demands and declining abilities, I wonder if making some changes might be a good idea, that's if the team even has a choice. Certainly, teams like Chicago have been able to integrate younger players considering the differences in roster between the current team and their championship team.
I think a major problem was the Michalek was traded, love him or hate him, and no one was brought in to fill a top 4 role. Letang, Martin and Orpik were leaned upon and guys like Niskanen were playing more minutes than was optimal. I still have no idea why they disinterred Eaton as he was terrible in his last year with the Pens and horrible with the Isles (I live in NYC so I got to see plenty of him). I thought that Despres showed promise, but his skating seemed to fall apart towards the end of the season. I don't know if they had him changing his technique or what, but clearly even in bad circumstances they were not going to use him. The recently signed guys jumped into the lineup in Wilkes Barre, but I doubt that Bylsma would want them without a least 12-18 months experience in the AHL.
I'm sure I'm in a minority, but after watching the past two offseasons, I can't say I would be disappointed if Letang was moved. He's a great player, but I'm not sure he is worth the salary cap hit he will likely get. If he could be moved to get some young depth, I'd pull the trigger. Just like Karlsson, I'm not sure you can win with a liability getting that many minutes.
To me, Martin was one of the stars of this playoffs. He's gotten a lot of grief, but he was invaluable at both ends of the ice.
I think Fleury has played his last game. I thought drafting him was stupid as the Pens never developed a top class goalie and the fact that his technical weaknesses today are the same as when he entered the league speak volumes for the goaltending coaching in the system. Fleury has a new family and should be allowed to move to a team where he can get a fresh start on the ice as well. Regardless of his playoff struggles, he has definite value as he is one of the best shootout goalies. For a borderline playoff team, those extra 5-10 points could make a major difference.
Vokoun was another MVP of the team. It's amazing having a goalie that gives you a chance to win every night. I would look to find a good backup that is capable of starting 30 or so games and ride the hot hand next season. The cap flexibility is greatly needed.
One note about the Pens
I grew up through the Lemieux era. If someone had told me that the Pens wouldn't make another Cup appearance in his career in 1993, I wouldn't have believed them. I just hope the team makes the right decisions to ensure that Crosby and/or Malkin get another chance, because it's amazing how quickly careers pass by.
I know LA nearly completed an epic comeback, but I worry that scoring is becoming an issue again. Too many times, teams that would score the first goal could just lockdown the rest of the game. I hope the discussion about increasing the size of the nets continues as I see that as probably the only hope to increasing scoring, or at least allowing more scoring chances. I know purists will scoff at this due to the impact on the game, but how can you compare the statistics of good players like Bernie Nicholls getting 150 points in one era and the league getting lucky if three guys get 100 points in a season now? Even stick in the mud MLB moved them mound up and down depending on the era...with 6'6" goalies now, the game is already fundamentally changed.