Friday, May 16, 2014
Debate: What's next for the Penguins?
By Scott Burnside and Craig Custance
Scott Burnside and Craig Custance talk about what's next for the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the wake of the firing of GM Ray Shero.
BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, the ax fell, and it fell rather stunningly in Pittsburgh with the news Friday morning that GM Ray Shero would pay the price for another disappointing end to a Penguins playoff season -- although head coach Dan Bylsma will remain, at least temporarily, pending the search for a new GM. Still, it would seem to be a formality, given the firing of Shero, that Bylsma will at some point be dismissed as well, given that this is five straight years of playoff losses for the Pens to lower-seeded teams. But I admit I was a little bit more surprised that Shero, former GM of the year, was let go, although as you noted in our podcast Thursday, the fact that Shero stuck with Bylsma after last year's sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals inexorably tied their fates. So, now what? Like the Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals, the Penguins need to find a key piece to their organizational structure they hope will restore Stanley Cup hopes. Do you think assistant GM Jason Botterill will be in the mix, given his knowledge of the Pens’ farm system, or will there need to be new blood with this hire? President David Morehouse said Friday that Botterill was a candidate and could in fact guide the team through the draft if a new GM isn’t in place by that time. What about Tim Burke in San Jose or Claude Loiselle in Toronto? Or do you think it has to be a GM with a higher profile?
CUSTANCE: To me, it has to be a GM who meets Sidney Crosby's seal of approval. Crosby might not formally have a say in the process, but I can't imagine them bringing in a guy whom Crosby wouldn't want around. That's why I found Bob McKenzie's speculation about agent Pat Brisson so interesting. Brisson's name was attached to speculation in Los Angeles when Dean Lombardi's job was in jeopardy, and that would have made a lot of sense if things hadn't taken off like they did for the Kings. Montreal was another destination in which Brisson's name was heavily attached before the Canadiens hired Marc Bergevin. Now comes this opportunity. These are some prime jobs, and you can't help but wonder if this is the one that convinces Brisson to cross over into management. The reality is he'd probably have to take a pay cut because of his impressive client list, not to mention the big deal coming for Jonathan Toews this summer. But he's close with Crosby, is no stranger to ownership in Pittsburgh and certainly qualified. If he's willing to do it, I think he's the best candidate. You?
BURNSIDE: I think it's more important that a new coach is aligned with Crosby and what is going to get this team back on the right track. And, let's be honest, is there anyone anywhere who doesn't think that Bylsma's firing is now a formality whenever a new GM is hired? As an aside, I think it's criminal that ownership wouldn't simply fire Bylsma to give him a shot at some of the openings that are out there as of this writing. Very passive-aggressive. Still, it's weird how suddenly we're having similar discussions about this management-star dynamic that we've been having for some time now with the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin. I think the Brisson idea has merit, although the pay cut isn't to be overlooked. Brisson’s partner, J.P. Barry, represents Evgeni Malkin, so lots of ties there. Too many? I wonder about that. Do you think it's overstating it to say this is a team at a crossroads now, and if so, do these hires become the most important moves since the Penguins won Sidney Crosby in the lottery in 2005? The new GM will have his hands full with the Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi contracts, and there is a significant issue of offensive depth, although credit to Shero for building an impressive group of defensive prospects, starting with Olli Maatta, who made the jump from junior to the NHL with great success this season. Still, I think the bigger hire will, somewhere down the road, be finding someone who can come in behind this bench and fix what is obviously a significant issue of getting the most out of the team’s best players at the most critical times of the season. Seems counterintuitive that we would say that about Crosby and Malkin et al., but the proof is the proof. I keep wondering about a guy such as Ron Wilson, who's had a chance to recharge after flaming out in Toronto. What about John Stevens, who should have had the Vancouver job last summer? If Shero had not been fired, I'd have suggested Barry Trotz, but I wonder now if Shero and Trotz end up in Washington or Vancouver together.
CUSTANCE: With Bylsma staying on, even temporarily, I absolutely agree that there could be a Trotz-Shero combo somewhere in the NHL soon. And that would be a heck of a team. I wonder how much the decision to keep Bylsma has to do with the reality that Mike Babcock has one more year left on his deal with the Red Wings? He'd be the perfect fit, and his willingness to play out the final season of his contract in Detroit opens up the intrigue even more. I think he'd love the opportunity to coach Crosby in the NHL and not just internationally, but he's also a guy who has a strong working relationship with Red Wings GM Ken Holland, sincerely appreciates the ownership in Detroit and really likes the prospects coming for the Red Wings, so he might ultimately decide to stick around. I like the Ron Wilson suggestion, and even though Shero is gone, I still think Trotz would have to consider Pittsburgh. If it becomes an opening, it's by far the best one available.
BURNSIDE: Hey, I think Trotz is a heck of a coach. But if Bylsma is ultimately let go for having failed to get his team back to a Stanley Cup finals, at the very least it will be interesting to see if Trotz -- whose Nashville Predators, albeit not blessed with nearly the same talent pool but who were nonetheless solid teams and who still never advanced beyond the second round -- is the guy to take over the keys to the Penguins’ star-studded lineup. Let me ask you this: Do you think the Penguins are that far away from being a contender again? Like Vancouver, is this a team that's seeing the window close on its championship chances before our very eyes? Seems impossible that it would be so but the facts are the facts. So, how important is this GM hire and the subsequent coaching hire we imagine is en route?
CUSTANCE: I think that's part of the reason we're seeing these major changes coming from Pittsburgh. You can't have two of the best players in the world on your roster and only win one Stanley Cup. The success the Blackhawks are enjoying makes it look worse by comparison, which is a credit to Stan Bowman's ability to consistently surround Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with the right pieces. I'm not ready to say the window is closing, but these are Crosby and Malkin's peak years. Crosby is 26, Malkin is 27. Historically, once elite forwards start to get into their 30s, the production starts to decline. The Penguins simply can't keep wasting these prime years of their star players.