Reporting Colin Dunlap
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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) – Dan Bylsma must be terminated.
No way around it.
After digesting what happened with the Bylsma-coached Penguins being swept from the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night by the Boston Bruins — and coupling such an abysmal showing with early exits in the past three Stanley Cup playoffs — the franchise must head in a different direction.
After leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2008-09, were shortcomings in the playoffs against Montreal, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and now the Bruins solely the fault of Bylsma? No, far from it.
In the most recent episode of institutional failure, the four-game sweep against the Bruins in which the Penguins scored just two goals in the series, a strong case can be made that the club got bounced because of the inadequate play of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and a handful of others.
Such a notion would be spot-on accurate.
Here’s another notion that’s spot-on accurate: They don’t fire players, they fire coaches.
It’s just the way the (sports) world works. So, Bylsma has to go.
Under Bylsma’s command, the Penguins ripped apart four straight regular seasons, accumulating 100-plus points in each of his first three seasons and then, with the help of a 15-game winning streak, tallied 72 points in this work-stoppage shortened, 48-game 2012-13 campaign.
But each of these seasons ended far too abruptly, as the Penguins — with a roster dotted with superstars — failed to reach the Stanley Cup finals in any season in which Bylsma has been the coach from the onset.
Certainly, Bylsma has led this team to remarkable heights in the regular season, but people want to see the baby, they don’t want to hear about the labor pains. No one, when truly looking back on things, cares much to remember innocuous victories in December and January.
Conversely, they want to see tickertape filling the sky on Grant Street in the summer, and a Stanley Cup being paraded around the Golden Triangle. And, with the assemblage of talent at Bylsma’s command, such an ask isn’t too much.
At the very least, getting to the Stanley Cup final should have been in the cards by now.
Again, because this hasn’t happened, he must pay with his job. Fairly or unfairly, that’s they way it goes.
In March, Penguins general manager Ray Shero cemented the task in front of Bylsma as a Stanley Cup-or-bust proposition. Even as his team was in the midst of roaring through March unbeaten, Shero added huge pieces, acquiring Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray to a group already configured as, and considered to be, a Cup contender.
With those moves, Shero did not just push his chips to the middle of the table in the proverbial card game, he took off his wristwatch and chucked it in, lobbed the keys to his car and tossed in the deed to his home.
The Penguins, to be certain by Shero’s actions, were all in.
But there were several quizzical decisions down the stretch for the coach who has amassed over 200 regular season victories already.
Was Iginla used correctly, as he was pushed to the left wing as opposed to his natural right side? Many will argue this is why he never realized his full potential at the tail end of the season.
In the first two games of the Bruins series, what about all those stretch passes and an insistence to try to out-hit Boston? Neither worked and, it can be argued, was a huge reason the Penguins ended up in the insurmountable hole.
And how about the power play that went 0 for 15 in the Boston series? Certainly there could — and maybe even should — have been some personnel changes. But, none came.
There isn’t any doubt, in the Boston series, some of the players considered the best in the world didn’t make an impact. Crosby and Malkin were invisible at times; Letang was downright awful.
But, as it is with sports, with any sport, disappointments funnel straight to the top.
Ultimately, they filter up to the guy in charge and, in this case, it is Bylsma.
After the last few season of frustration in the playoffs, the Boston sweep is just the latest disappointment.
For Bylsma, however, it should be his last one as Penguins coach.
Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.