May 4, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma (middle) talks to the team during a time-out against the New York Rangers in the third period in game two of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Diagnosing the Pittsburgh Penguins: What changes will be made?

Being the current owner of the best player in the NHL (Sidney Crosby), the Pittsburgh Penguins not making it to a Stanley Cup Final, and winning it, is again disappointing for fans. So now that the off-season has started for the Penguins, we fans begin to wonder. The most popular thought is, I’m sure, what the hell can we do to win another Stanley Cup?

Assuming ownership won’t panic and demand the trade of one of the stars, i.e. Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, I’ll suggest a few possible outcomes for the in restructuring the Penguins over the summer.

Supporting Cast Rework

This time around in the Playoffs the Penguins did not get the production out of their stars that they expected. It is not good to put pressure on depth players to score on a nightly basis when hoping to win a Stanley Cup. Though Brandon Sutter was great, his and Jussi Jokinen’s efforts were simply not enough to carry the team through Crosby’s slump.

The Penguins have struggled with depth players since they won the Cup in 2009. On it was noted that since 2007 (one year after Ray Shero became GM) not a single Pittsburgh draft pick has scored over 15 goals with the team. That’s right, not one.

So this has got to change. The team must get younger, and goal scoring depth is needed. Fans may have seen the last game Craig Adams and Tanner Glass will play with the team. On the back end, Brooks Orpik may be on the trade block in an effort to bring in a younger face or two.

Goaltending Overhaul

The easiest way to sort out any problem on the ice is to blame the guy standing in net. Obviously, games in the playoffs are won and lost as a team. But it is easy to look elsewhere in the playoffs and see teams like Chicago who give up 31 shots a game with a goalie boasting a GAA of 1.97 in Corey Crawford.  The Pens gave up a similar number in 29, but Marc-Andre Fleury squeaks by with a 2.40 GAA.

While looking at some numbers may lead you to think Fleury was a top performer for the Penguins this postseason. He was decent, and at times brilliant, but it was the types of goals he let in that make one wonder what exactly he’s thinking in net.

Take his blemish in the opening round, allowing Brandon Dubinsky to tie Game 4 late on a puck that Fleury never should have played. And the one that allowed Nick Foligno to score in OT.

It shouldn’t have to be said again, “in big games, big players make big plays.” The Penguins need a goalie who can bear down and play flawless hockey when they need him to. It doesn’t matter how much offense or defense the team provides for a goalie. When the game can be decided by one moment, whether it’s the first period or third, the goalie must play with the same attitude and have confidence and consistency in his game.

Coaching/Management Makeover

Finally, another intriguing option is looking at the coaching and front-office. With Shero’s failure to find and develop talent within the organization since he became GM, a move in replacing him is another possibility. Whether owner Mario Lemieux wants to go down this path or not is unknown, but off-season meetings will surely discuss this.

The only worthwhile player scouted and developed under Shero’s staff has been Olli Maatta. This season’s acquisitions were lackluster. Taylor Pyatt was a waste. Marcel Goc didn’t do much aside from penalty kill. And Lee Stempniak wound up on the third line helping Sutter instead of Crosby.

When pondering over Shero’s existence as the Pens’ GM next season, let’s look at what’s behind the bench, too.

We’ve all seen it in the playoffs, where an opposing team will assign a single man to cause hell for Crosby. This mostly comes in the form of excessive defense and pestering, trying to get in his head. This requires an enforcer on the ice to protect Crosby, to pound the ever lovin’ bejesus out of the a-hole, and let your star get back to being a star.

The players that would have been capable of this for Bylsma weren’t even dressed. Deryk Engelland did not see the ice for one NHL playoff game this season, and Glass was scratched for the bulk of the series with the Rangers. So Crosby was harassed until he was ineffective.

Although both Shero and Bylsma are liked men throughout the franchise, they are likely to be out from their jobs following a round of firings leading up to the draft this off-season. This will be sad for Pittsburgh Nation, but hell, hockey is a business baby.

Anyhow, finding a replacement will be easy. Anyone have recent Gagarin Cup winner Mike Keenan’s phone number?

Tags: Dan Bylsma Pittsburgh Penguins Ray Shero

  • Robert Vandermark

    Watching the Penguins over the last 5 years ownership has a major problem. A new coach, GM, goalie, etc may help but it may not. The writer alluded to the Pens’ real problem in an indirect fashion. While Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are gifted offensive players both can be intimidated. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. An enforcer on their line(s) is silly and impractical. We’re talking about the playoffs here; no one “pounds” anyone. Enforcers rarely even play much and for a reason: they aren’t that good. Crosby and Malkin are “soft”. They aren’t tough enough to slog through the grinding, tight-checking, nasty play a good, physical, defensive forward is capable of. There will no doubt be some needed changes and they may be helpful. However, the two star players will remain and how the Pens management overcomes their lack of grit will be interesting to watch. This is a big problem for this hockey club; how do you make a player “tougher”?

    • OVP66223

      enforcer on line 1 or 2? No, but we need better toughness and size. We have a bunch of timid averaged sized players or midgets. We get pushed around by Flyers and Bruins and others with bigger rosters and more tenacity. Time to go find one or two replacements that are bigger, even if slightly less skilled for lines 1 and 2. The fourth line needs some serious toughness and size additions so we can go rough up the opponents and keep them in check.

      As for Crosby and Malkin, I agree, they play soft. They really have to learn to be a bit more gritty and just lay a few hits from the outset, just to send a message. We see other moderate or undersized stars do this time and again. The other way to fix that is to have players on their sides that have grit and tenacity and some size. Certainly the Pens will NEVER be known as the toughest team in the league with more finesse like players like Crosby and Malkin, but I don’t recall them having any issues with lack of grit, toughness, tenacity and size when they were making runs a the Cup finals a half-decade ago and that had softies Malkin and Crosby at the center of attention then too. So we know it can be done.

      • richard

        Size matters? I’ll take a midget like St. Louis any time. If the ‘hits’ stat means anything, check the Pens’ against a lot of other teams…

        • OVP66223

          Sure, but what if you have a whole team of St. Louis? You wouldn’t even win a playoff game. He doesn’t have good games if no one around him can put fear into the opponent, sorry.

          The other fact you don’t get, is that St. Louis has some skill and speed. Our midgets don’t have either. The bigger players on the roster lack toughness and hustle. The little players lack toughness and skill/speed.

          We need to replace a couple of small forwards with big forwards and yes, if a skilled mighty might is out there that can be had for $ that fits under the cap, go for it, but the root problem is a lack of size and toughness (and nasty dispositions). When a 5’10″ Giroux is making the whole team look like sissies, that tells you something. He has toughness. I see the Rangers, Flyers, Bruins with a handful of tough, nasty players. We have ZERO of those…not a one.

  • OVP66223

    So, as I have stated elsewhere, the areas the PENS need to fix:

    – depth and quality of the roster. Shero has made nothing but bad
    decisions the past two years. Not a single trade had any positive
    impact (Morrow, Iginla, Stempniak, Goc, fat-defender from Anaheim or
    wherever, etc). The talent next to Malkin and Crosby is very mediocre.

    – Grit and size on the roster. This is imperative. We are SOFT, SOFT,
    SOFT. We have a bunch of mites with little skill and the average sized
    guys also have little skill. The role players on this team stink and
    shouldn’t be on any line at the NHL level. The roster around the stars
    needs gutted and retooled. Keeping Shero would be beyond stupid as he
    doesn’t know how to fix whats broken judging by his horrible trade
    record AND his poor signing of Letang to a mega-deal.

    We must get
    more grit, toughness and tenacity on the roster and hopefully do that by
    getting a little bigger at several positions. We need a few 6’2″ +
    guys that play big. Their puck and skating skills only need to be
    average to work, but even better if they have some passing or scoring

    3 – New coaching staff to at least try something different
    and hopefully get back to fundamentals. Play good team defense FIRST
    and the offense with the talent of Malkin, Crosby and a few others will
    come via many breakouts and turnovers.

    4 – Move Letang. He will
    never be a top 2 line D-man and is the most overrated player on this
    roster. I was hoping they’d trade him last year instead of give him
    money, but now we’re stuck with an undersized D-man that has an average
    offensive game and precious little ability in his own zone…mistake

    5 – Make a decision about Fleury. He wasn’t the problem
    this year, but if he carries a stigma now, go ahead and find a new
    goalie and move Fleury. Personally, I think with his sports shrink
    visits, he’ll be fine moving forward so long as the team in front of
    him starts playing some defense and limits the mistakes (when pigs fly?)

  • richard

    Trade lazy a$$ Malkin (what happened to the Malkin that took over when Sid was on extended leave?) – ok maybe Letang – but in the deal the other team has to take Fleury too. Get depth with the trade. And what happened to the 30-goal James Neal that got a big contract?

    • DashingDave314

      As a Capitals fan, I HOPE they trade Malkin and blow up the team. Shero’s more to blame IMO- Danny’s bottom six forwards have almost always stunk. In the playoffs you need four strong lines to win. I’d fire Shero and allow the next GM to decide Dan’s fate.

      Capitals overreacted and fired Boudreau in 2011. 3 years later, we regret it. Just saying.

      • OVP66223

        We agree on Shero, he has built a terrible roster with big headliners but no meat on the bones. A bunch of mites with no size, toughness, skill or speed…we have 4 or 5 regular forwards that shouldn’t be on an NHL team. Sad state of affairs. Sutter deserves better than the crap he has to play with and the 4th line is the worst in the NHL.