Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dan Bylsma's goatee - and maybe his job - is in jeopardy

By Artistry

Google "Dan Bylsma fired" and you get some entertaining results. Lots of articles from April 2012, when the Penguins were fresh off that disastrous playoff showing against the Flyers. Some horrifically bad Bleacher Report "piece" from October 2010, which somehow the "correspondent" got 1,000 people to read.  And if you dig deep, you can unearth this little gem from November 2010, wherein a brave and resolute blogger, so much younger then, made his case for everyone to just relax and stop talking about firing Dan Bylsma.  As we said at the time, this is just the way things go in the NHL.  It's the one league where emotion can trump everything when it comes to hiring and firing coaches.  The more it feels like somebody should be canned, the more likely it is he will be canned.

Exhibit A
And here we are again. We told you before the season that Bylsma would be under the microscope this season to a much greater extent than he has been in years past.  With the Penguins coming off an inexplicable loss to the Islanders, people are FREAKING OUT. They want answers, and the easiest answer when nothing makes sense is a simple one: "Blame the coach."

Nothing is as bad as it seems after a loss like that.  This is the same team that smoked the Rangers a few games back.  But as Finesse wrote earlier on Wednesday, it's pretty bad. So is the easy answer the right one? Do we blame the coach? Read on for answers, both simple and complex...

First, if you're Bylsma, the first thing you do is shave the goatee. Could this be any more obvious? This is central to the culture right? Facial hair is crucial. You keep it when you win, you shave it when you lose. Duh.

But it's an apparent refusal to acknowledge the obvious that makes me think now, for the very first time, Bylsma's job is in real danger. To wit:

- He's banging his head against the wall with the power play. Bylsma spent 10 months analyzing the team's deficiencies, and this is what he came up with? Granted, James Neal on the point looked like a great idea for about 7 periods before everyone seemed to figure out how to neutralize it. What was Dan Bylsma's Plan B on Tuesday?  He put Malkin on the point, to no avail.  If there is one thing we know for sure, it's that Geno doesn't want to be on the point and Geno is not at his best on the point. If you as a coach can't figure out how to put your most dangerous power play weapon in the best position to succeed, what are you doing exactly?  The fact is, the Penguins don't have 2 minute power plays. They have 1 minute, 15 second power plays where Geno and Sid try to force the puck either to each other or across the ice through someone's legs.  Then Tyler Kennedy comes over the boards and stickhandles for 45 seconds. Bylsma seems strangely OK with this. I would split up Sid and Geno immediately.

- He's quick to change up line combinations, except when they involve Eric Tangradi. Can anyone explain why it took Bylsma 6 games to give Dustin Jeffrey a shot on the second line? Too much of a history of scoring goals in the NHL? Too savvy? Too unintimidated by playing with good players? Eric Tangradi not ineffective enough? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions?

- The "system" does not seem to be working. At all. Bylsma's system revolves around mobile defenseman who quickly collect the puck in the defensive zone and get the play moving rapidly north/south in the other direction. The Penguins have 1 goal in the last 6 periods. When a coach's "system" breaks down like this, there are three, and only three, possible explanations: 1) other teams have figured out how to neutralize the system; 2) you don't have the right personnel for the system; or 3) the players are no longer buying into the system.  It doesn't really matter which of these three explanations - or what combination thereof - applies here.  The Penguins look stale, stationary, and scared. The obvious move is to tweak the system.

Maybe the Pens wake up and roll the Rangers and Devils this week. Maybe everything is different by Sunday. But whatever happens, make no mistake, this is the most important week of Dan Bylsma's coaching career.


  1. I agree that Bylsma is on the hot seat - and that the system is failing - whether because it's flawed, the players don't suit it, or it's just too bloody complicated.

    But an important week? Maybe a month. But that's just the issue: you can't change coaches in late Feb. or March, and it's too early to toss a Cup-winning coach when the shortened season has introduced so many other complications - complications that might get worked out in a week or two. I honestly don't think he gets fired now or this season - but he likely will this summer if this team isn't at least in the EC Final. And I'm fine with that.

    Though I will say: everyone is suggesting that these problems are persisting from last season. But they aren't exactly. The issue last year was never the offense (even the PP) - never the Pens ability to sustain pressure. They could do those things. They just couldn't defend. The defense has been pretty good this season (at least for significant stretches, if not absolutely). They just can't maintain any sort of offensive pressure and spend too much time defending. It's baffling.

    I'm not sure what that says in relation to Bylsma: more systemic adjustments than are obvious to the casual viewer? Just insufficient prep time in a shortened season? Forwards not playing up to their normal caliber? Or is this really the collapse of the system?

    I do think the next week answers those questions.

    1. Good points. My only difference of opinion is that I put the offense as the least of my worries. Lack of confidence in Fleury is #1, defensive personnel is #2, special teams #3, 5-on-5 offense is #4. Right now the biggest thing hampering the offense is the drop off from Staal to Sutter. But as you've said many times, it's way too early to make definitive conclusions about him. But over the first six games, I think it's safe to say Sutter has done nothing offensively.

      Beyond that stuff though, it just feels like there's an intangible missing, and that is a similar feeling to last year ... a "whole is less than the sum of the parts" kind of thing. "Stale" is the best way to describe it, I think. A big part of that feeling may be coaching, and that's why DB is definitely under the gun. But another part is that Sid and Geno shouldn't be letting the team get stale. It almost seems like they are going through the motions, too.

    2. That's pretty much my point: what has been the biggest issue in this season's losses seems the most likely to be temporary. The PP is worrisome - but I suspect the PK will get worked out, given the long-term history.

      We're just going to disagree about Flower. As far as I'm concerned, until the team can string together a couple of consistent efforts, his grade is incomplete. He's always had slumps like the end of last year - and come out better on the other side. And his play tends to echo the play of the team. Perhaps you can't call him elite - because he doesn't raise his team up, but he doesn't worry me.

      As far as the staleness - perhaps. Or perhaps it's just the process of finding chemistry. Sid's right to say early season slumps aren't all bad, if you are forced to find that balance and address your issues.

      They may be trying to find their emotional balance too. They know that part of their issue in the playoffs was that they were out of control at times - Letang, Sid, Geno. Tanger especially was pretty explicit about saying that he needed to be better at keeping emotional control (No kidding, kid!). Pretty early in the broadcast on Tuesday, one of the announcers said they were "business-like, bordering on flat." It was one of the few astute things I've heard on NBCSN. It takes a rhythm to be business-like and not flat, one that they'll hopefully find.

  2. The long outlet passes are not working. They lead to more turnovers than scoring chances. When they dump the puck into the offensive zone they are not winning the battles in the corners to regain puck possession.
    The system that they are running does not seem conducive to protecting a lead. I think the system needs to change to better suit the personnel especially the defense. My suggestion is to adopt a system similar to the New Jersey Devils. I agree that the lack of effort and grit are major problems at this time. I believe that if this team focuses on defense first the offense will take care of itself.
    I know that the present system has been successful in regular seasons past. But, this team is not judged on the regular season. Since the Cup Win in 2009 the Penguins have only won a single playoff series. Over the last three years this team is 12-14 in the playoffs with a 3.44 goals against average. These problems are not new.
    The Kings and the Devils went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and did not have near the talent that the Penguins do. They kept it simple, out work your opponent, get the puck to the net with traffic in front and everyone plays defense.

  3. There's no way in hell I would watch the Pens if they adopted the Devils' system. Winning isn't everything.