The 2016 offseason was remarkable for the Pittsburgh Penguins in terms of how little movement happened. With the exception of Ben Lovejoy leaving as a free agent, almost the entire team was able to come back. Perhaps more interestingly, off the ice all of their most important staffers were retained as well.
The 2017 offseason has already poached a lot more. Most notably, assistant GM Jason Botterill got hired to be the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. A little deeper below the surface, scout Scott Bell left Pittsburgh to be an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. Rumors abounded that assistant coaches Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin were in consideration for open head coaching jobs, but that has not materialized to this point.
Some other changes have been positive. "Advanced stats" guru and the brains behind War On Ice website Sam Ventura (a consultant with the team since 2015) has been promoted to a full-time position as "director of hockey research".
Now, another big change.The Pens have promoted Mike Buckley from the position of goaltender development coach into the NHL goalie coach. The former goaltender coach Mike Bales has left Pittsburgh to take the same position with the Carolina Hurricanes.
From the Post-Gazette:
Indeed, once Bales was hired in 2013, Fleury's performance stablized in a notable way and even though the goalie was in the middle of his career he performed with some of his best stats including a .920 save % in 2014-15 and .921% in 2015-16. Those seasons would be Fleury's finest aside from a .921% performance in 2007-08 as a 23-year old in the very defensively responsible era of Michel Therrien.
As pointed out here on Pensburgh in November 2014, Bales' effect on Fleury was immediately evident in terms of eliminating variance and big swings in play. In short, Fleury was able to steady his play and became a much more consistent goalie under Bales than he had been previously.
The most important aspect of this news is this is a change the Penguins wanted to necessitate as they prepare to move forward with Matt Murray as the goalie of the future. The Pens obviously feel Buckley is the right coach for him, and as Jason Mackey said in the PG article the team wanted to retain Bales in a different role, but it was clear they are looking to Buckley to work with Murray moving forward.
The Penguins organization has gotten some great results in goal; Murray set AHL records for shutout streak when he was there, and prospect Tristan Jarry enjoyed a nice season in Wilkes-Barre this year as well. Casey DeSmith came virtually out of nowhere to have a great season as well. Of course, how much of that credit belongs with Buckley and how much goes to the players themselves is unknown, but given the organizational success and solid stats across the board by multiple goalies, it figures to be a pretty safe statement that Buckley has had fared pretty well so far in his role.
In a way, it's just another sign that the baton has been handed over from
err from Fleury to Murray as the Penguins shift gears and move into a new era in the net. Bales was and will be a good goalie coach, and it's interesting given the tumultuous relationship between Jim Rutherford and Carolina ownership that the Canes, of all places, became his landing spot. Those teams also worked together to send Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh in an important deadline acquisition, so perhaps the angry feelings has become water under the bridge. Crosby to Giroux
Regardless, the future is now and for the Penguins the future is Matt Murray and a coach he works well with in Mike Buckley.