In the course of 12 months a lot of good things have happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but also a lot of bad things. And, I don't even know how to rank whose pain is any better or worse than anyone else's pain, but the interrnet loves tidy "Top 10" lists at the end of the year, so let's look back at 'em. Some of the rankings were constructed just to better write the narrative and not have the story read better, so don't get too caught up on the numbers.
#10 The Greek tragedy known as Beau Bennett
Beau Bennett's gone from injury prone, to a joke about how unlucky he is, to being not-even-a-funny joke anymore. His 2014:
Beginning of 2014: Bennett rehabs surgery on his wrist from November 2013, was thought to be an 8-10 week recovery.
Feb 2014: suffers "square one setback" to wrist during rehab and could have had season ending surgery then. Elects to tough through it and comes back on March 28th. Bennett goes on to play 8 more regular season games and 12 of the Pens 13 playoff games in the spring.
May 2014: gets the exact same procedure from November 2013 to repair wrist again. Requires a serious summer rehab just to get ready in time for camp at 100%
Sep 2014: In the last week of training camp, Bennett's skates clip a teammate at practice, he hits a rut and sprains his knee, even tweets an apology of how mad/sad he is.
Nov 2014: Finally at 100%, Bennett has a successful rehab stint in the minors, comes back for 7 games before a Bruins player falls on his legs on November 24th, ending the 2014 playing part of his season.
Dec 2014: Bennett is diagnosed with the mumps.
2015 has to be kinder to Beau Bennett, right?
#9 The Sidney Crosby / mumps fiasco
It got bad, the Penguins doctors again somehow failed Sidney Crosby, who despite vaccinations and tests, ended up with the mumps- and even worse practicing around teammates and eventually passing the virus along.
Crosby talked to the media on 12/12 and his face looked like this, which will be a lasting image of the whole NHL mumps outbreak of 2014.
Later in the month of December Bennett, Olli Maatta, Steve Downie and Thomas Greiss would also test positive for the mumps and have to be isolated.
#8 Leaving Dan Bylsma in coaching purgatory for 3 weeks
May 16th - Ray Shero is fired. Surprising, but even more so was that Dan Bylsma was not. The media was tipped earlier in the morning that both would be gone, but then at the press conference the hammer only fell on the GM, in an apparent last second change of plans.
The Penguins looked really bad. Why delay the inevitable? Anyone with half a clue knew that Bylsma had coached his last game as a member of the Penguins, but yet he hung in some bizarre purgatory.
June 6th, Jim Rutherford is hired and confirms the firing of Bylsma, citing word from above that it was time to go in a different direction.
Why the wait? Did the Penguins not want Bylsma to take another job (Washington was looking for both a GM and a head coach at that time, Carolina was looking for a coach). Were they hoping Bylsma would resign so that they wouldn't have to pay his contract? Other factors at play?
Either way, the Penguins didn't come out of that situation looking good, and bizarrely left a Stanley Cup winning head coach out in the wind for longer than they should have.
#7 Bungling a coaching search
Rutherford's first order of business was finding a head coach. The process was not a smooth one.
The Penguins interviewed a bunch of candidates and Rutherford said, "I’ve zeroed in on one guy." That guy, Bill Peters, didn't take the job in Pittsburgh, instead choosing to sign with Carolina. They then moved on to Willie Desjardins, who apparently was just using the job interview to force Vancouver's hand into offering him that position that he really wanted all along.
Finally they hired Mike Johnston, a little known juniors coach who had experience as an NHL assistant coach, but no resume of success in the NHL.
Why the headaches to land a coach? Rick Tocchet was already hand-picked by leadership as an assistant to give the team a tougher edge that was felt to be lacking. Coaches don't like it when they can't pick their staff and especially when a potential successor could be in the wings. There was also rumors that the Pens were playing hardball on contracts, offering little money and low term to candidates like Peters, Desjardins and Johnston who weren't exactly household names.
Either way, after the Bylsma fiasco, the Penguins again became a minor laughingstock as they stumbled and bumbled through a coaching search. However, given Johnston's results so far in 2014, perhaps that all worked out for the best.
#6 Kris Letang has a stroke
Kris Letang has had knee injuries. Concussions. Shoulder injuries. He's missed game time for any number of reasons. But who would have guessed on February 7th that the team would announce Letang suffered a stroke the week earlier?
"It's tough to believe. I'm in the .01 percentage," Letang said a few weeks later. "When I found out, I didn't believe it. I didn't even understand the word [stroke]. I had to call my wife and ask her what it was. She went to school in English."
It all seems so unbelievable. And even more that Letang was able to comeback on April 9th and continue his hockey career with almost no limitations. Sure he wasn't quite as sharp as he typically is, but still, for a guy who suffered a stroke a few weeks before Letang scored 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 13 playoff games playing an average of 24:10 a night.
Letang has returned to normalcy- though no one can say for sure when or if he might suffer any future health issues. All doctors are confident that hockey will not help or hinder his long-term health, and that staying in such tremendous shape can only be a positive.
Also a positive, 10,000 people turned out for a heart walk in November to raise money and awareness for the issue, showing some good from a very confusing and scary time earlier in the year.
#5 Pierre McGuire, serious contender for GM job
Wanna hear a joke? The Pittsburgh Penguins almost hired Pierre McGuire as their general manager this summer.
Sadly, only the rest of the hockey world was laughing. From Puck Daddy:
"Any time after that second interview, and you get a call to discuss contract and other things, you have a pretty good feeling you’ve got the job," he said.
McGuire refuses to share details on those contract demands, except to say they were a significant facet of the negotiation. Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet reported that McGuire wanted a 5-year contract while the Penguins were only willing to go three years.
Please note that Rutherford expects he’ll remain with the Penguins for "two or three years."
#4 Pascal Dupuis' blood clots
Late December 2013, Pascal Dupuis tore his ACL and by February he still had not had surgery, which we noted as kind of concerning even though due to swelling, sometimes it happens.
Then we found out that Dupuis had a blood clot which delayed surgery early in the year, and unfortunately another one returned in his lungs, practically ending his season on November 19th with the declaration he'll need to be on blood thiners for no less than 6 months, if not longer which would jeopardize Dupuis' playing days.
More hopes for the best for a good guy.
#3 Ollli Maatta's shoulder, cancer, mumps and shoulder again
For such a young player, you couldn't ask for a weirder script than what 2014 held for Olli Maatta. It started out great- he was one of the best players on the ice for the bronze medal winning Team Finland at the 2014 Olympics and finished 5th in the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) for his awesome 2013-14 campaign.
Then, came the pain. Maatta underwent a shoulder surgery in late May after the season to repair a torn labrum. Reports are he might be facing a similar injury and procedure in the near future, which would probably end his 2014-15 season, although recently it was announced he will not need it at this time.
Maatta was also the 3rd Penguin player diagnosed with the mumps, which sucks but is a minor inconvenience considered that just a few weeks earlier he had a cancerous tumor removed from his thyroid gland.
All the best for a much better 2015 for Olli, a solid player and good human being that deserves a break in the medical department.
#2 Ray Shero predicting his own firing
Entering 2014, it was almost unthinkable to a Penguins fan that general manager Ray Shero, as in 2013 NHL GM of the year, would end up getting shown the door.
Yet, Shero knew his job was in jeopardy and was tied to the fate of the playoff run that the team would go on in 2014, going so far as to prepare his wife if the Penguins lost early again.
Shero told his wife to be ready to move if the Penguins lost Game 7 against the Rangers, the sources said.
He was right. The Penguins lost Game 7 and Shero was dismissed. Quite the staggering turn of events for Shero who fell off the pedestal so quickly. Pens fans were proud of the trades and winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, but new changes meant uncertain future in the summer of 2014 for the whole organization.
#1 Blowing a 3 games to 1 series lead to the Rangers
Losing a playoff series sucks. Losing to a rival team in the playoffs suck. Blowing a 3 games to 1 lead sucks. May 2014 for the Pittsburgh Penguins sucked. The Penguins lost their last three games of the 2013-14 season, and in pathetic fashion. They only scored 1 goal in each of Games 5, 6 and 7. They were out-scored 5-1 in the first period of those last 3 games, a sign their team wasn't ready or prepared for games and perpetually had to play catch-up against a good team with a great goalie. Not a recipe for success come playoff time.
After the disappointing loss, it was revealed Crosby's wrist was hurt, explaining his lack of goal scoring ability. But it wasn't enough to save the jobs of Bylsma and Shero, resulting in the sea change that saw James Neal get traded and several other core players like Brooks Orpik and Jussi Jokinen leaving in free agency without the team wanting to retain them.