So why would you think of something as insane as getting rid of THIS guy?
In the post season, Bylsma's Penguins have badly underperformed, losing to Montreal in the Conference Semis in 2010, laying an egg on home ice in the decisive seventh game. They then lost to Tampa, after holding a 3-1 lead in the series, getting shut out on home ice in Game 7 in the Conference Quarter-Finals in the 2010-11 series. Last season, after having the second best record in the East, the Penguins imploded in the first round against the Flyers. They took multi goal leads in the first two games on home ice, gave up the lead in both games, losing them both. They got creamed in Game 3, and looked totally lost, before succumbing in six games. Shero took the off season and trade deadline to address every percieved weakness from back up goaltending, to some size and nasty in front of our net, to some grit and leadership on the forward lines, bringing in Vokoun, Morrow, Murray, Iginla, and Jokinen to an already stacked team. Morrow and Iginla were both captains of their former teams, and hungry tough veterans who could still put the puck in the net.
Well, after handling two teams who were not the caliber of the Pens in the first two rounds, it seemed as if Disco had the monkey off of his back. He had reached the Conference Finals, and short of a disaster, most felt that he had secured his job at a minimum, and at a maximum, had his second Cup in reach. Well, said disaster occurred, as noted, with Pittsburgh getting swept by Boston, and many people questioning the decisions or lack thereof by the head coach. Let me say that Pittsburgh could pretty easily have won 3 of those 4 games, with the very ugly game two on home ice being the notable exception. It was notable in that it was one of, if not the worst playoff performance I have witnessed personally. There is a faction who correctly note that the players, especially the stars who make millions are the ones who play, not the coach. But, while true there were a number of questionable decisions by Bylsma that do make him appear rigid, too much in tune with the grinders v the best skilled players, and unable to put a game plan together to react to a team who was preventing the Pens from "getting to their game" as he says so often.
First, and this was apparent throughout the playoffs, but Pittsburgh's talent differential masked it in the first two rounds, was the stubborn use of stretch passes and stick handling to gain the offensive zone resulting in turnovers, and odd man breaks the other way. It is pretty accepted knowledge in the NHL, that the time and space for fancy plays that exists in the regular season always disappears in the playoffs (unless you are playing Pittsburgh), yet the Penguins under Bylsma again seemed to ignore that fact while getting burned time and again with blue line or neutral zone turnovers.
Second, and related to this issue is the lack of traffic around the net that most teams use when facing a hot goaltender v picking corners of the net or making that last perfect pass that never gets there. Maybe Bylsma told the players to get to the net? Well if he did, they did not care enough to listen. The front of the net on both ends of the ice seems like a no fly zone for Pittsburgh. That cannot be in the NHL playoffs.
Third, the misuse of Jarome Iginla as a left wing on the second line or demoting the future Hall of Famer to the third line for a game so that Crosby could keep his line intact. If you drop Kunitz to the Malkin line, you reunite last year's best line in hockey in Malkin, Neal and Kunitz, while giving Crosby and Dupuis a Hall of Fame 1,000 point plus tough right winger. If the Crosby line were doing anything or the Malkin line were doing anything, maybe you can excuse this. But nobody but Kunitz from those lines, registered a point in the series, so why would you not at least at this late juncture put Iginla where he is comfortable?
Not taking advantage of home ice to get favorable line matchups was another highly criticized no-move by Bylsma.
Fifth, the short handed goal issue partially created by having Malkin on the point on the power play v Paul Martin, who is the best puck distribution guy, a key element on any power play, and a defenseman, which may have cut down on the odd man breaks against on our power plays. The three short handed goals against leads all playoff teams.
The decison to put a power play unit and most especially (in this playoffs) high risk players like Letang and Malkin on the ice with 30 plus seconds to go in Game 3 against Ottawa, as opposed to defensive minded players to protect a 1-0 lead was highly questionable. Every possible mistake was made and instead of a 3-0 stranglehold on a series, the Pens almost let Ottawa make a series of it.
Sixth, leaving a guy like Simon Despres on the bench while players like Engelland, eventually Eaton, and often time Niskanen were liabilities. Despres is a big puck moving defenseman who can be physical yet he sat since mid way through series one. He was a good partner to Letang during the year, who frankly looked either great or HORRIBLE the whole playoffs.
Similarly, Beau Bennett seemed to prove that the playoff stage was not too big for him, and his size and skill would have landed him ice time on any other team but ours I would think. Bennett did get some time late in the Bruins series, but his use or lack thereof seems to underscore the other Bylma crticism that he favors plumbers like himself too much v pure talent. Would Brandon Saad be a part of the Penguins playoff run if drafted by Pittsburgh, or would he have been toiling down in WBS?
The young Penguins, beginning to make a splash in 2006-07 and through the 2008-09 championship team seemed to laugh off adversity and stick it in your ass when you thought you had your foot on their throats. That swagger and mental toughness helped launch my already insane love for this team to scary heights! However, it seems that for the past two or three years, any hint of post season adversity sends this team into a bewildered, lack of confidence mode that is frustrating to watch.
Finally, there is the eye test. I doubt anybody would argue that Boston has more talent than Pittsburgh. However, Julien's team seemed to execute a game plan that all 20 players lived shift in and shift out. Clog the neutral zone, play defense first, protecting your net, create offense off of the transition game created by sloppy Pittsburgh puck management, win the puck battles, funnel shots to the point and crash the net. They played like a team, executed a game plan that was simple but effective, yet Pittsburgh never changed their approach. As alarming as that was, it alarmed me more to hear commentary from Pittsburgh players and the coach that they ran into a hot goaltender and there was nothing they would do differently other than get pucks in the net? If you truly believe that, then you are in denial, and there would be very little reason to believe that anything will change in the post season next year.
I will handle other RS off season decisions in separate posts.