Dan Bylsma (left) will await his fate after a successor for Ray Shero (right) is hired. (Fred Vuich/SI)
By Allan Muir
Well, this was unexpected.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins revealed they had a major announcement to make at 11:30 this morning, it was immediately assumed that coach Dan Bylsma had been given his walking papers.
Instead, it was general manager Ray Shero who was sent to the unemployment line.
"We share the disappointment of our fans that we have not had success in the playoffs over the past five seasons," owner Mario Lemieux said in a team statement. "We believe that new leadership in the general manager’s office will bring a new approach and new energy, and help us return to championship form."
Shero's Penguin won the Stanley Cup in 2009, but his subsequent teams have advanced past the second round just once since then--including last year's disastrous four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins and this year's collapse against the New York Rangers after holding a three-games-to-one advantage.
It has been reported that ownership was unhappy with his drafting record--only five players he has selected have gone on to score a goal for the Pens--and his inability to surround superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the depth and quality that is needed to contend for a championship.
Penguins CEO David Morehouse surprised everyone by revealing that Shero's dismissal would be the only Brogan to drop on Friday. Bylsma's fate was kicked down the road for Shero's eventual successor.
"The decision is to have a new general manager come in and do the complete evaluation, and evaluate the whole hockey operations department including the coaching staff," he explained.
Curious doesn't begin to describe that plan.
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No one wants to be fired, but it doesn't feel they like they're doing Bylsma a favor by letting him swing in the wind until the next GM works up an assessment that almost certainly will conclude that a new voice is needed behind the bench. There are a number of openings for which he'd become a leading candidate if he were available, but those opportunities will dwindle the longer he's left in limbo. Hard to think that he's looking at this as his lucky day.
Assistant general manager Jason Botterill will temporarily assume Shero's duties until a replacement is decided upon. His term will almost certainly last through next month's draft and into free agency. It may extend beyond that. He's regarded as a legitimate candidate to replace Shero.
Botterill's not an expert in amateur scouting though, so it's likely that he'll serve as an advisor/tie-breaker and leave the actual draft selections to the team's bird dogs. His strength is in cap management, which could come in handy during the next two months. The Pens have to make a contract decision on restricted free agent forward Brandon Sutter and UFA blueliner Matt Niskanen. It's thought the defenseman priced himself out of their reach with his breakthrough season, but if anyone can find a way to make the numbers work, it's Botterill.
There's already speculation that Shero is the leading candidate to snag the open GM job with the rival Washington Capitals
. Don't be surprised, though, to see him return to Nashville, where he learned the front office game from David Poile. The Preds would promote Poile to create an opportunity for Shero, who also has a longstanding relationship with new coach Peter Laviolette.