Pittsburgh Penguins May Have Gotten It Right, Despite Unconventional Process


May 2, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Fans enter the gates as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Rangers in game one of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The way the Pittsburgh Penguins went about restructuring their organization was unconventional. Yeah, you could call it odd.

Ownership could’ve gone ahead and fired coach Dan Bylsma when they relieved general manager Ray Shero of his job three weeks ago, but they didn’t.

Instead, it was up to new GM Jim Rutherford to officially pull the trigger on Bylsma, even though he said he leaned heavily on what Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle and David Morehouse told him about the situation before officially doing so Friday.

It’s almost inexplicable why Pens ownership didn’t just get rid of Bylsma earlier, if their opinions were strong enough to convince Rutherford so completely. However, let’s not act like Bylsma and his family are out on the street. He may have missed a couple opportunities to interview for other coaching positions, but he’s still getting paid for another year at a lucrative rate.

Bylsma will be fine. In fact, he’ll probably end up with another NHL team before the Penguins find someone to replace him. Did the way ownership handled the situation hurt the franchise’s reputation? Maybe, but probably not until Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leave town.

It’s also anyone’s guess who Rutherford ends up appointing to coach the Penguins in 2014-15. Two of his former coaches in Carolina – Peter Laviolette and Paul Maurice – are under contract with NHL clubs. He has a potential candidate on the current staff in Jacques Martin, but the same could be said about Tony Granato.

But if we can set aside the coaching debate for another time, there’s a lot to like about the way the Penguins have set up an apparent order of succession in the front office. The Pens were fortunate to find someone like Rutherford, who at 65 isn’t looking too far down the road with his latest job.

You don’t often – if ever – hear a general manager refer to his eventual exit in his introductory press conference, but that’s exactly what the frank Rutherford did, saying that he’d be the GM for three years at the most. At that point, he will presumably step aside for the up-and-coming Jason Botterill, who was promoted to associate GM.

Why not just hand Botterill the top job now? Perhaps ownership wanted to see how the 38-year-old handles more responsibility before bumping him all the way up the ladder. Botterill will get that opportunity now, as Rutherford explained Friday afternoon at Consol Energy Center.

At the same time, there’s still leeway to adjust if Botterill doesn’t live up to his promise. In that case, the Penguins would have assistant GMs Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald as possible in-house options before having to look outside the organization.

Of course, this backup plan assumes that everyone involved stays content with their new roles, especially Botterill. The Penguins themselves have said he’s close to getting a GM job in the NHL, but whether it’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere is to be determined.

Nevertheless, the Penguins’ Friday shuffle seems prudent on first impression. It may not have been the exciting splash that some anticipated, but it gives them the luxury to wait and see.