The Bruins have been salting the earth behind them in these playoffs, traumatizing Toronto and spurring New York to fire John Tortorella. Might they add to their coachkilling spree with Dan Bylsma's head? One report has owner Mario Lemieux already reaching for the ax.
The Penguins were the on-paper Stanley Cup favorites in the beginning, middle, and even the end of the regular season. Loading up before the trade deadline with Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Douglas Murray, this was a team designed for a championship or bust. Well, it went bust. Pittsburgh was demolished in four games by Boston, during which they scored just two goals and never once held a lead. It's the fourth straight postseason disappointment for these Penguins, and according to the Post's Larry Brooks, it could be the last with Bylsma in charge.
Several individuals within the industry have told Slap Shots Penguins chairman Mario Lemieux, distressed by his team’s fourth straight failure to get out of the Eastern Conference after consecutive trips to the Finals in 2008 and 2009, the latter culminating with a Stanley Cup victory, may instruct Shero to dismiss the coach.
Bylsma has a Cup, of course—but it was with that 2009 team he took over in mid-February. With Crosby, Malkin, and former first-overall pick Marc-André Fleury anchoring a regularly fearsome roster, 2009 seems oh so long ago. Any other franchise would be thrilled to make the NHL's final four, even with the embarrassing sweep. But in Pittsburgh? The coach with the longest single tenure in Penguins history (Eddie Johnston had two stints) may have overstayed his welcome. And, incidentally, Lemiuex never played for a coach he didn't believe he was smarter than.
Before Game 4, GM Ray Shero pointedly would not say whether Bylsma was coaching for his job. After Game 4, citing a "personal situation," Shero announced he wouldn't address the media until Wednesday. Part of that is surely letting things cool down—talk radio needs a few days to get the "fire and/or trade everyone" reaction out of its system. But with the East containing the still-dominant Bruins, the rising Canadiens and Maple Leafs, and soon the Red Wings, and with Shero having gone all-in this season on veteran players, something will have to change. The easiest instant fix is always the coach—only because it's harder to replace a goaltender.
Bylsma said unequivocally that Fleury is his number one goaltender next season. This after losing the starting job to Tomas Vokoun in the first round, and not getting it back even after Vokoun got knocked around in Game 2 of the Bruins series. Vokoun, at 36, is probably not the answer long-term. But is Fleury?
Bylsma has hitched his wagon to Fleury, but no matter if one, neither, or both go, these Penguins are currently constituted are about to be blown up. Take a look at Pittsburgh's contracts; seven UFAs this offseason, and just five players under contract after next year (including Fleury). Either Bylsma gets one more shot before the window closes, or it'll be a new man behind the bench to oversee Shero's rebuild 2.0.