While reading through extended interviews with Pittsburgh Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle last Friday, a persistent thought kept popping up in my head.
Is it possible Dan Bylsma returns to coach the team next season?
That notion seems highly improbable on the surface, as whoever replaces Ray Shero in the general manager’s chair will almost certainly want to bring in his own coaching staff.
But while scanning through the transcript of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier’s gab session with Lemieux and Burkle, I’m starting to think the Disco era isn’t quite dead at Consol Energy Center.
One passage in particular has the gears in my head turning. From Burkle:
“I also think that it’s too easy to blame it on the coach and throw the coach out and have the GM stay, it’s more complicated than that. As Mario said, Dan’s done a lot of great things here and he’s been a good coach.”
“When we try to evaluate why we haven’t been more success in playoffs, obviously the coach comes into the picture, but if you listened to what we said about what kind of team we want to have – and we don’t have what kind of team we want to have today – then that comes back to more of a GM issue.”
If that wasn’t enough to make you think, try this line from Lemieux:
“If you look around the league, there are some great organizations. Look at Detroit. They don’t win the Cup every year but (Mike) Babcock is still the coach. If you have a great coach, you’re not going to win every year but certainly the expectation is still there for Detroit and a team like us.”
Not only does that statement tweak the Mike Babcock-to-Pittsburgh rumors just a bit, it also tells you that Lemieux is hesitant to continue the not-so-proud Penguins tradition of changing coaches as often as most people buy new shoes. Bylsma’s five-year stint in Pittsburgh has already bucked that trend, although compiling the most wins in franchise history has helped in that regard.
While Burkle and Lemieux were careful to say that GM candidates wouldn’t disqualify themselves by expressing a desire to dismiss Bylsma, I get the feeling if someone wants to succeed Shero, he is going to have to make a convincing case for a coaching overhaul.
If you’ll remember Friday morning, reports leaked out that the Penguins were going to fire Bylsma and Shero in tandem later that day. At some point before that noontime press conference, team ownership changed its collective mind on the situation, electing to lop off the head of the hockey operations department first.
I’d still bet that there will be a new face behind the Penguins’ bench in October, but the alternative – as unlikely as it may seem on the surface – is definitely still in play.