Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dan Bylsma to blame for Team USA 'embarrassment'? Hardly. (PODCAST)

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

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Check out our Olympic recap podcast below. We touch on Team USA's failures, Team Canada's dominance, and what it all means for the rest of the Pens' season.  Listen below or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.



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We are not Dan Bylsma apologists -- his flaws as a coach are often apparent, and there's plenty of blame to go his way for the Pens' flameouts in recent playoff series.  But we are also realists about how much blame a coach should shoulder when his team loses a hard-fought 1-0 game to a team with vastly superior talent.  Not that much.


Dan Bylsma is finding himself a convenient scapegoat for Team USA's failure to win a medal in Sochi.  Puck Daddy calls the whole tournament an "embarrassment" and says "Bylsma oversaw the worst 24 hours in recent memory for American hockey."  Sunbelt Hockey Journal blames Dan Bylsma for the failure to medal because he gave Brooks Orpik too many minutes.  Dejan Kovacevic calls the performance disgraceful and doesn't think Bylsma will be asked back to coach Team USA.  Etc, etc, etc.

The problem with assigning blame to Dan Bylsma for Team USA's "embarrassment" in Sochi is that it rests on a faulty premise and conflates two performances that have nothing to do with each other.  When the U.S. lost 1-0 to Canada, it was frustrating, not embarrassing.  The Bronze Medal game against Finland was an atrocious performance, but to claim that it was an embarrassment that sullies the reputation of Bylsma and the stature of USA Hockey is disingenuous and punishes them for not caring about winning something that they understandably didn't care about winning.  Let's take them in turn, after the jump...

The main critique of Team USA's performance against Canada is that the U.S. was not aggressive enough.  But that criticism presumes that the U.S. could have been more aggressive.  It's easy to say that you want to be aggressive (I'm sure Latvia wanted to be more aggressive, too) but it's another thing entirely to actually be able to do it.  As good as Team USA looked at times, their roster was significantly less talented than the Canadian roster.  How many guys on Team USA would have actually made Team Canada?  Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, and Jonathan Quick are definite, and Zach Parise probably makes it.  A lot of the guys would have had trouble cracking the lineup had Canada fielded a B-team.

Blaming Bylsma also presumes that there was a better tactical approach for Team USA to take.  It's always easy to say you should have done Y instead of X if you did X and lost.  But that doesn't mean that Y would have been a better option.  Let's say that Team USA is "more aggressive," whatever that is intended to mean.  Canada has possibly the three most complete defensemen in the world in Doughty, Keith and Weber, plus a compliment of players who are as smooth at moving the puck as anyone in the league.  And then they have forwards who, when they set their mind to it, are impossible to score against.  Would being less passive have given the U.S. a better chance of winning, or would Team Canada have exploited that and won 6-2 instead of 1-0?  We'll never know, which is exactly the point.

Kovacevic blames Bylsma for failing to adjust "when it looked like the opponent might have had a superior strategy, such as, say, Jonathan Toews utterly smothering Phil Kessel despite Bylsma holding last change."  This isn't superior strategy by Canada -- this is called having superior players.  Critiquing line matchups is only a valid critique if there's a legitimate alternative.  So, what would have been a better matchup for Kessel?  Going against Crosby and Bergeron?  LOL.  Bylsma could have tried Kessel against Getzlaf and Perry, but they're the second highest scoring teammates in the NHL and a combined +48 this season.  The reason the USA lost is not because Phil Kessel couldn't get away from Jonathan Toews.  It's because Phil Kessel is Team USA's best player and there was not a single advantageous matchup for him to exploit.  What possible combination of players could have lined up for Team USA where you would have said, "boy, I really like the U.S. matchup on this shift"?  For God's sake, Canada had the best offensive forward in the world (Crosby) and the best defensive forward in the world (Bergeron) ON THE SAME LINE.  Is the U.S. sprinting coach to blame because no one can beat Usain Bolt in the 100m dash?  Sometimes the other guy is just better.

But surely Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, and Keith Yandle would have made a difference, right?  No offense to those guys, but come on.  If you're longing for Kyle Okposo to be the difference maker for your country against a roster of future hall-of-famers, therein lies your problem.  David Poile, Ray Shero, and Bylsma could have taken all three of those guys and the gap in talent between the two teams would have been the exact same.  Don't forget that they were geniuses last week for picking T.J. Oshie instead of them.

Bylsma is most vulnerable to backlash for the U.S. performance against Finland in the Bronze Medal game because, much like his Penguins do, the team quickly melted down once they got frustrated.  That's a legitimate concern with Bylsma teams.  But sorry to get all Rambo on you here: the Bronze Medal game is un-American.  Since when are American hockey players -- or athletes in any team sport played in America-- supposed to care about consolation games?  Do you watch the NIT?  Do you watch the bowl game before the National Championship game?  Would you have been happy if the Pens beat the Kings in a consolation series last year?  I agree with the sentiment that U.S. players should have been better in the Bronze Medal game, representing their country and all those cliches.  But really, truly, did they care?  Should they have cared?  Do you, as an American, actually care that our team didn't care about the bronze medal?  It was disappointing to see the Americans melt down against Finland.  I'll be more disappointed if the day comes when Americans celebrate a bronze medal in hockey.

A final point.  Do hockey coaches have magical powers such that they, and they alone, control the outcome of single-elimination games?  They can make some difference, but barring some egregious mistake, their impact, especially when they spend less than 2 weeks with their team, is dramatically overstated.  Hockey is the most fluid sport in the world -- the whistle doesn't blow after every play so you can make substitutions and change formations.  Your job is to put the right players in situations where they are most likely to succeed -- once they're out there, it's out of your hands.  When the other team has much better players (you know, like the Canadians), then you just have to hope for great goaltending and a couple bounces to go your way.  The Americans got the former; Canada wouldn't let them get the latter.

I suppose it's cathartic to pile on Dan Bylsma; the Pens regular season is meaningless so his elimination from the Olympics is a nice preview for the vitriol that's being chambered for April and May.  But all the guy did was make Team USA the talk of the Olympics until they ran into a team that was obviously superior.  He lost that game, just like every other team in the world lost to Canada.  The good news is that Team USA is standing right alongside Sweden, Finland and Russia, knocking on Canada's door.  The bad news is that Canada's got that thing shut pretty tight.

16 comments:

  1. Really, even PGH newswriters agree that he is to blame (which you note). I have to assume that using TJ Oshie repeatedly during the now famous shootout could be the worst decision in hockey history. If USA loses, Disco would've been crushed by every piece of media in the USA. With that firepower on the bench he uses 1 player? Awful decision that Disco got lucky with. Then changing gameplans for Canada, based on a successful gameplan, was a terrible decision. DISCO IS NOT A BIG GAME COACH. This is proven every year in the playoffs. NOW TO THE GOOD NEWS: Geno should be well rested as should MAF. Hopefully (LE)Tanger can play the rest of the season. Personally, Sid having 2 golds ain't too shabby!

    LGP!

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    1. Uh huh. Games 6 and and 7 of the 2009 Cup finals weren't big, I suppose, or maybe you're only counting as "big" the games where expectations exceeded the talent on the roster. You know how many other coaches failed to win the Stanley Cup in the last 5 years? Pretty much all of them. As for these Olympics, Canada could have won the thing with Pierre Creamer.

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    2. You hit the nail on the head artistry and the comment above is just the same generic thoughts as the other writers are spewing, the better team won, that literally could summerize ther usa vs canada game, the fin vs usa game didnt matter at all, i dont think they cared at all playing in that game, but yet before the canada loss bylsma was a hero, people can be ridiculous when franticly looking for answers that they dont even know what they mean or are talking about. We all got way to over our heads seeing usa beat those lesser teams by a big margin, we easily could of lost to russia and people forgot that we still had to beat not only the best team on paper "by a long shot" and by the end of the tornemet the clear best team in it. Bylsma saw what other teams did against canada and had success so he figured hed pack it in and hope for some bounces there way for a goal, well we didnt get that but we did loose a decently tight game against an absolute juggarnaut that was playing out of their minds. Putting the blame soley on him is just ridiculous.

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  2. Can we please make the change from SID THE KID to SID THE KING!

    BEEJ

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  3. I'm soooooo tired of people making excuses for Bylsma. I wish i had a job were if I was a complete screw up at a crucial moment I would not only not be fired but get a promotion and have a bunch of ppl making excuses for me. I live in Pgh and I'm a Pens fan and I have hated Bylsma since 2011. I believe Bylsma is completely at fault for this humiliating loss. I don't understand why everyone makes endless excuses for him. Its true he is great during the regular season, there's no denying that, but during the playoffs or when a championship is on the line he has repeatedly choked since 2010. I could not believe how much team USA reminded me of how the Penguins look in the playoffs right before they are eliminated. The Pens are usually one of the better teams in the league but in the payoffs they turn into a team that is unmotivated, cant's score, can't play defense, and has no composure. Watch how the Pens were in the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 and see if it reminds u of how team USA played. I assure u its eerily similar. Why would 2 different teams made up of totally different players (save for 2) lose in such a similar humiliating and embarrassing way? its not a coincidence. Bylsma has the potential to be a really great coach but he never will be because he's either too stupid or too arrogant. He never changes his system and I have never heard him admit that something was his fault or that he made a bad decision. He mismanages players and wastes their talent. I am not surprised team USA lost in the way that they did. The Pens lose like that every year.

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    1. Are you talking about the Canada loss or the Finland loss?

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    2. Both but mostly the Finland loss

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    3. "I've hated Bylsma since 2011": Imma put that on a bumper sticker. Maybe a button. Badge of honor!

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  4. I live in Pgh and I'm a Pens fan and i hate Bylsma, i have since 2011. Why would 2 different teams (the Pens and team USA) made up of totally different players (except for 2) act so similar? its not a coincidence. Bylsma is typically on fire during the regular season just like he was for the first few games of the Olympics but when games count and a championship is on the line his teams tend to lose in a very humiliating and embarrassing way. His team turns into a team that is unmotivated, cannot score, can't play defense, and has no composure. I don't mind if USA loses to a better team but lose with some dignity and at least show up for the game. I said the same thing about the Penguins when they got eliminated from the playoffs in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The Pens and Team USA's common denominator is Bylsma. He NEVER admits responsibility for his errors and NEVER adjusts his system when he is clearly being out coached. I would say that this lose is probably 20% the players fault and 80% Bylsmas fault. You have to be delusional to think that Bylsma is a good overall coach and is not at fault.

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  5. Wow. 20 percent players and 80 percent Bylsma. Really, dude? So, using that logic, if we put Scotty Bowman in charge of, let's say, the 1996 Florida Panthers, they could and should have beaten the Avs that year in the Cup Finals. Ridiculous. Coaching supposedly makes all the difference. The USA is a solid team, #2 in the world, IMO. However, Canada keeps proving why they are clearly the best. Marty St. Louis is one of my favorite players and a HOFer who is still playing great for a playoff team, and TEAM CANADA INITIALLY LEFT HIM OFF THE TEAM. Do you get that? The Pens were eliminated in 2011 without 87 and 71. They had zero firepower and overachieved that year. 2013, they ran into a hot goalie and hit a bunch of posts. They gave up very few goals, played decently, and didn't get a few bounces against a battle-tested and talented team that won a Cup in 2011. 2012 was ugly, no doubt. However, get a life, dude.

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  6. One thing that we all need to acknowledge about Bylsma: he has remarkably little going on hair-wise. Notice how thin it is--the man is virtually bald. Yet from afar the hair is apportioned just well enough to give the appearance of a thinning yet still fairly comprehensive buzz cut. He is a master of illusion.

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  7. On Friday morning, USA was the best coached team in the Olympics and Bylsma was a genius. 24 hours later he was a disgrace. I love how press works. Its easy to criticize coaching decisions without being accountable for the alternative. As you guys illustrated above, the alternative would not have resulted in a better outcome. Had Bylsma employed an aggressive forecheck against Canada (which would've been a disaster), Dejan would've questioned why they didn't use the 1-2-2 after seeing Canada struggle with it against other teams. Certainly, Bylsma deserves some criticism for the meltdown against Finland, but so does everyone else in that locker room. To pin both losses on Bylsma is shortsighted and lazy.

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  8. Not a "Dan Bylsma apologist"? Really? That's pretty much the theme of this article.

    Your explanantion for the loss against Canada is essentially "They're a better team. All their players are better than team USA's. There's nothing Bylsma could've done that would've yielded better results." Seriously? Isn't that exactly why we have coaches? If it was simply a talent competition we wouldn't need to play the games anymore. In arguing your case you absolve him of all coaching responsibilities.

    And to counter your argument, you could easily say that the Pens have "better players" than most NHL teams. If that's the ultimate factor and, just like you make it seem with team Canada, that's what wins games and championships instead of coaching, then WHY have the Pens steamrolled through the regular season only to get ousted by "inferior" opponents during the playoffs the past few years? How, then, is it even possible that Boston swept the Pens in the ECF last year? Could it be that Julien... gasp... out-COACHED Bylsma? How could he possibly do that with an "inferior" roster???

    To be fair I actually like Bylsma, but the excuses are really starting to pile up. The players deserve some of the blame, to be sure, but his roster in Pittsburgh is STACKED with proven winners. Obviously they know how to win in clutch situations. Just count all the cups, world championships and olympic medals on the team. Simply thinking "Oh, my guys are great so we'll just line up and play" is NOT something that should be mistaken for coaching. Bylsma doesn't deserve all the blame, but he's as guilty as anyone in that regard.

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    1. You're doing what a lot of people are doing, which is being irrational and using the Olympics as a launching pad for attacks on Bylsma that have nothing to do with the Olympics.

      You're also not appreciating the talent gap between the Americans and the Canadians. Three, maybe four, U.S. players even make Team Canada. I don't know what you think hockey coaches can do, but conjure up in your mind the greatest hockey coach in history, and there's a good chance he's losing at least 6 out of every 10 to the Canadians. Team USA lost 1-0, and had 31 shots. They lost to a much better team by one goal in a single elimination tournament. There's no shame in that. It happens. It's hockey. Sometimes you lose games. Sometimes you lose a lot when the other team has better players than you.

      Be specific ... what should Bylsma have done differently against Canada, and what is your proof that it would have resulted in a better result than losing by one goal to a superior roster? If Bylsma makes these yet-to-be-identified "adjustments," does Canada just throw its hands up and say, "well, gee, we don't know how to handle this, here America, take the gold medal"? Be specific, Jack Adams.

      The Pens do have better players than most NHL teams, and they have a better record than most NHL teams. They made the conference finals last year and lost to a team that was very very close to the Pens in talent, if not even. Julien did outcoach Bylsma in that series, and Rask outplayed Vokoun/Fleury, and Bergeron/Krejci did a great job on Crosby/Malkin. Bylsma's flaws with the Pens are apparent and we talk about them all the time. But they have nothing to do with losing 1-0 to Canada.


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    2. That's obviously a loaded question, as there's no way to "prove" something would have changed the outcome. And I never claimed to be Jack Adams or any kind of NHL coach, to be clear. My point was that you seem willing to give Bylsma a pass on the olympics based on roster talent alone. I think that is a cop-out. The most "talented" team doesn't always win championships.

      And I'm not attacking Bylsma. There's no shame in losing a 1-0 game to the Canadians. There is, however, A LOT wrong with coming in as the #2 seed and producing NOTHING for 2+ games when it matters most. Again, there is plenty of blame to go around...

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    3. The most talented team doesn't always win. But it often does. And when the talent discrepancy is as great as Canada vs. USA, and it's single-elimination, and when it's a one goal game, and when the coach doesn't do anything that anyone can point to as obviously wrong, then I guess yeah, I'm going to give the coach a pass on that one. I'm sure there is stuff he could have done better. Same goes for Babcock even though they won.

      There are a lot more parallels to the Pens when it comes to the bronze medal game. But like I said in the post, I really don't care about the bronze medal in a head-to-head team sport, and clearly the players didn't care that much either. Indict Bylsma for the mental fragility late in that game if you want. But I'll sit that one out.

      Bottom line: the Olympics are the wrong crutch for the anti-Bylsmaites to lean on. Besides, if he's as bad as a lot of people seem to think, the right crutch will come along in about 2 months.

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