By Allan Muir
Maybe we'll find out later today or tomorrow or next week that things didn't go down as badly as it appears. Maybe meetings were held, ideas were tossed around and options were discussed, all in a very respectful, straightforward fashion.
But the way things look right now? Dan Bylsma just got the shaft from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Not because he was fired today--we all saw that fastball coming when his boss, GM Ray Shero, was canned back in May--but because of the disgraceful way in which it was handled.
Team ownership in Pittsburgh had every right to make changes this spring after yet another playoff disappointment. Eight consecutive years in the postseason for Shero? Swell. Six for Bylsma. Awesome. And when was their last Stanley Cup exactly?
That's a harsh standard, but it's the downside to working in a town where winning isn't a goal, it's an expectation. When things don't go well, someone's liable to lose their job.
So after another promising season ended with the Pens being ousted by the Rangers in the second round--after blowing a three games to one lead, no less--it was assumed that heads would roll. But when it was Shero, and not Bylsma, who was given a hearty handclasp and escorted out of the building, we were shocked--and then shocked again to be told that the coach's tenure would continue...at the discretion of the new man.
Because, of course.
It seemed like a sketchy move right away. After all, there was almost no chance that Bylsma would be retained, and by keeping him on it prevented him from having his pick of the vacant coaching jobs on the market (including, not coincidentally, one in rival Washington). But hey, maybe his vision would match that of the new GM so they decided to keep him around, just in case.
And then, to the surprise of almost no one, it didn't. Jim Rutherford was hired as the team's new GM this morning and within minutes Bylsma was gone.
So why again, exactly, was he left to twist in the wind for three weeks?
That was a sorry, sorry move by the Pens, one that tars the reputation of what has long been a highly regarded organization. And something that shouldn't go unnoticed by whoever steps in as Bylsma's replacement.
No word yet on who that will be.
As for Bylsma, he's now left to pick through the scraps to decide where he wants to work next.
Vancouver? The talent is a bit too old there. Florida? Promising, but too young. Or does he decide to put his feet up and ride out the two years he has remaining on his deal until an opportunity comes along that's just right?
Whoever gets him will put their fate in the hands of a work-in-progress. Bylsma is respected enough to have been named coach of the American Olympic hockey team in Sochi, but he got there primarily on excellent motivational skills. If we've learned anything during the last few years, it's that his X's and O's work and in-game management need some refining. But whoever signs him can count on an honest effort.