On the surface, I don’t have an issue with Pittsburgh Penguins management extending the contracts of coach Dan Bylsma and assistants Todd Reirden and Tony Granato, as GM Ray Shero announced Wednesday morning.
No matter what the team’s decision was regarding the status of its coaches, it’s certainly better to remove the uncertainty as early as possible. The Penguins did just that, beating the NHL Draft by two weeks and the start of the free-agency period by nearly a month.
However, as I expressed Monday on this site, the Penguins cannot afford to maintain the status quo, not after a fourth consecutive playoff run ended in a collapse at the hands of a lower-seeded opponent. The latest news from Consol Energy Center indicates that co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, along with Shero and the rest of the hockey operations department, think coaching hasn’t been the determining factor in the team’s failure to reach the Stanley Cup Final since 2009.
That leaves the players. While Shero and Bylsma couldn’t have been more effusive in their praise of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury this week, the effort felt more like a public-relations push than genuine evaluation. Shero also pumped the tires of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on Wednesday, reiterating that both are here to stay.
Delivering these messages can only benefit the club, as the players will feel wanted if they do stay around, and potential trade partners will theoretically perceive those players’ values as holding steady, if not increasing. I tend to lean toward the former motivation in Malkin’s case and the latter with Fleury and Letang.
Furthermore, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Penguins beat reporter Rob Rossi told 105.9 The X’s Mark Madden on Tuesday that he wouldn’t be surprised if the team moved wingers James Neal and/or Chris Kunitz this summer, if only to shake things up. I agree, and would consider no one on the roster to be safe, save Sidney Crosby, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Malkin.
After all, if the Penguins more or less return the same cast of characters in the fall, it delivers the tacit endorsement for the team’s recent playoff underachievement. With the driven Lemieux, Burkle and Shero in charge, I don’t see that happening.
Buckle up, this offseason could be a rough ride.