Distance Gives Perspective
They lost. What’s next?
According to the sensationalists in the media and the bridge-jumpers calling into the sports radio stations, it’s time to tear down the team the way Mellon Arena was torn down.
I don’t think they believe it, though.
General Manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma held their season-ending press conferences yesterday. Neither said anything too exciting and both avoided rash judgments.
They know there are problems that need fixed, but they aren’t ready to draw conclusions.
It’s too soon after a monumentally disappointing first round exit — the third consecutive playoff loss for a team that is considered perennial Stanley Cup contenders — to make any rational observations.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what I’m reading and hearing:
Fire Dan Bylsma, trade Sidney Crosby, and scrap all systematic plans on record. It’s time to start from scratch.
As if the Penguins don’t have two of the top forwards int he game and one of the most dynamic defenders on the blueline.
This isn’t a team in need of being blown up. Heck, it’s not even a team in need of drastic changes.
Things just didn’t click for this the Penguins in the playoffs, and while all of the above are factors, none alone are the problem.
The solution might be to make some bold roster moves or a coaching change, but an implosion would be ill-advised and shortsighted.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the concerns and how they might be addressed — once some perspective is gained, of course.
Bylsma and his system
Three consecutive 100 point seasons, one Stanley Cup, and one Jack Adams award prove he’s no idiot. “He’s got all the talent in the world, though,” many will say. He sure does. But he didn’t last season, when his team not only made the playoffs, but came within one game of advancing to the second round. The man knows how to coach, and his success during an injury-plagued tenure is his proof.
His system, however, might need a tweak or two. It’s proven to be extremely effective when the stars are injured, allowing the role players to play to their strengths. But when the stars are healthy, the all-offense all the time approach doesn’t cut it.
Bylsma shouldn’t and won’t be fired. He’s proven too much. But you can bet he’ll be encouraged and motivated to adjust his system to strike a balance between the systematic approach used when his team was injured and the free-wheeling approach used when everyone is healthy.
The three center model
First things first. Crosby is not getting traded. It’s not happening. Period. End of discussion.
Second, Evgeni Malkin was the scoring champion and heavy favorite fort he Hart Trophy. What team can possibly offer enough value to make Shero contemplate dealing him? He might not be a Penguin for life (few superstars stay in one play for an entire career), but he’s not on the final chapter of this book just yet.
Third, rumors are swirling that Jordan Staal is unhappy with his role as third line center. Bull#%$@. He finished the playoffs tied for third with James Neal in average time on ice per game. His role is prominent, and what line he is on is meaningless.
All things considered, the Penguins might shift away from the three center model in order to improve the top two lines. Adding Staal to the mix allows for a defensive presence that could help to balance the high-powered nature of the others.
One of the best special teams clubs during the regular season floundered when it mattered. Personnel or schematics could the issue. My guess is it’s both.
It might not be a bad idea to bring in a mastermind to revamp the power play. Someone who isn’t afraid to put the players with the most chemistry on the ice together, as opposed to putting the best players on the ice. Someone who could be the “bad cop” to Bylsma’s “good cop” beyond his duties as power play coach.
Rick Tocchet, anyone?
Paul Martin is a quality hockey player. He might even be better than that. But he is proving to be much better in a defensive system like the one used in New Jersey, where he spent the early part of his career. He just doesn’t fit in Pittsburgh. It’s my belief that he should and will be traded this summer.
“But who would take that heaping pile of garbage,” sounds like an appropriate counter question that might be asked this week. How about a handful of teams that are run by people who realize not every player fits in every system? How about a handful of teams that have watched Martin play with an objective view and see what he can be in the right situation? How about a handful of teams that were hot after him when he was a free agent two short years ago, driving up his price tag to $5 million per year?
Fans tend to overvalue to good players and undervalue the bad ones. Martin has value across the league, and while the Penguins might have to take on a “bad fit” type player in return, they’ll find little trouble trading him (assuming he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause). Example I heard that sounds about right: Martin to Tampa Bay for Ryan Malone.
To fans, Matt Niskanen was viewed as a “throw in” in the James Neal for Alex Goligoski trade. The reality could be quite the opposite. After a rough start last season, Niskanen has fit in perfectly in Pittsburgh, proving to be one of the more valuable blueliners on the team. While his contract is up, his restricted free agent status should keep his price tag relatively low. And he is a must-sign defender.
Rounding out the blueline is an interesting debate. Is it time for Zbynek Michalek to go? Mike Adams’ PK Numbers, suggest that while he might not look good doing it, he’s very effective. What about Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy? Are they nice depth or potential anchors?
One thing is for sure, Simon Despres very likely has forced his way onto the roster next season. Not far behind is Brian Strait, who reminds me a lot of a young Rob Scuderi. It’s entirely possible both could be on the roster come October.