UPDATE: According to Penguins Team President David Morehouse, the Pittsburgh Penguins have fired Ray Shero as GM. Dan Bylsma is technically still the head coach, though the new GM will evaluate Bylsma's status.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were going to make changes following another early exit from the playoffs. The judgement from ownership has come down swiftly and is significant: head coach Dan Bylsma has been fired (yet) And they didn't stop there, as general manager and executive vice president Ray Shero has also been dismissed, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie and CBC's Elliotte Friedman.
The team is having a press conference at 11:30 AM to make it all official, but for now let the fall-out begin.
Bylsma started his first season as a head coach in 2008-09 in Wilkes-Barre of the AHL. But with the Pens mired in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and not looking like they would make the playoffs on February 15th 2009, the team fired Michel Therrien and named Bylsma the interim coach.
Bylsma provided an instant shot in the arm, taking Pittsburgh to a 18-3-4 record down the stretch and powering them into the playoffs. The interim tag was quickly shed and he was the full-time head coach, leading the Penguins to series wins over the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings in route to winning the 2009 Stanley Cup.
From that greatest of early success, the bar was set impossibly high for Bylsma. The Pens had a (then) 21 year old captain and MVP candidate in Sidney Crosby, another MVP candidate in Evgeni Malkin and a young core of talent in Marc-Andre Fleury (who posted the NHL's best save % in the 2008 playoffs), Jordan Staal and Kris Letang. They were coming off two straight Stanley Cup finals appearances and seemed to be an annual contender.
But the Penguins ended up not winning even a single conference finals game in the next five seasons, and it has cost Bylsma his job.
Bylsma has had great regular season success- he is the fastest NHL coach in NHL history to 200 and 250 wins. His points % is higher than anyone who's coached 250 regular season games. In 2010-11 Bylsma won the Jack Adams Award for the best NHL coach. This year he coached the Pens to first place in the division (and his career high with 109 points) despite leading the league in man-games lost to injury.
And yet, it wasn't good enough to keep his job based on playoff failures.
- In 2010 the Pens blew a 3 games to 2 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, ending their run as champions.
- In 2011, the injury riddled Pens (who didn't have Crosby or Malkin in the lineup) squandered a first round 3 games to 1 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- In 2012 the Pens lost their composure and went down 3 games to 0 to the Flyers, before losing the first round series series in six games.
- In 2013 the Pens ran into a tough Boston Bruins opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals and were swept.
- In 2014 the Pens blew a 3 games to 1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the second round of the playoffs.
To have a healthy Crosby and Malkin over the past three seasons and only get 3 playoff series wins wasn't enough to keep Bylsma at the helm. The blame ultimately lies on the players who couldn't execute at key moments, but NHL coaches have notoriously short shelf-lives. They, like all professional coaches, are hired to be fired. Bylsma couldn't get them to execute in recent years, and now he's out.
Bylsma also was at the mercy of a tight salary cap which saw many of the Pens role players (from Staal to Max Talbot to Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy and many more) pushed out of town over the years. It didn't help that the Penguins drafting and developing of young players has slowed to almost a trickle, giving Bylsma less young talent to work with now than at the beginning of his stint as head coach.
Dan Bylsma is a good coach, a good man and will likely have many job offers this summer. Odds are he will be successful somewhere down the line. But after five straight disappointing years, his stint with the Pens is over, and Pittsburgh is left searching for a new coach who's biggest challenge will be to get the players back to the heights they experienced in 2008 and 2009.
Shero was hired by the Pens after the 2005-06 season, replacing long-time general manager Craig Patrick. When Shero was first hired, the team's coaches office didn't even have internet access- he had to quickly help modernize an entire organization that grew up quickly with Malkin and Crosby leading the way as the Penguins "X Generation" made way for an actual good team.
Shero presided over big moves- bringing in Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis in 2008 trade was a success that helped the Pens to the Cup finals that year. Shero getting James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski also was a great trade.
But, as we discussed here in depth, there were significant cracks in Shero's team building. The Penguins often traded high draft picks for rental players, and the players they did pick high in the draft were usually collegiate players who tend to take 4-6 years to develop into NHL level players.
Shero also drafted several defensemen high, but still signed an aging Rob Scuderi to an expensive four year deal last summer. Even if Scuderi played well (he didn't), it would be a puzzling move to direct a significant portion of the team's already limited available salary cap space to a veteran player that probably wasn't needed 2-3-4 years down the line, something Shero even seemed to admit in his press conference announcing the signing.
Both men are very well respected and neither figures to be out of work for very long. However, for the Pittsburgh Penguins it's clearly a day of change and to go in a new direction. It's a shocking day of change, but one hopefully that will result in better days ahead.