PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Stanley Cup Finals will get underway tonight, but the Pittsburgh Penguins will only be able to watch.
However, General Manager Ray Shero held a press conference this morning to talk about the past season.
Shero led off the press conference by announcing a new two-year extension for head coach Dan Bylsma. The extension runs through the 2015-16 season. Contract extensions were also reached with assistant coaches Todd Reirden and Tony Granato.
“My vision moving forward in evaluating our team, our coaches, the direction I want to go with this franchise, is I really, believe we have a great head coach in Dan Bylsma. I believe he is the coach to lead us forward. I have faith in his ability. I have faith in his ability as a coach to get better as he moves forward,” Shero said.
In addition, Shero also said that Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle supported the decision 100 percent to extend Bylsma.
“I think the confidence of Ray Shero, Ron Burkle, Mario Lemieux that I am the coach of this team now and going forward and into the future with this extension and this coaching staff I think was very big for us,” Bylsma said.
The news of the extension comes amidst what appeared to be a growing sentiment among fans to cut ties with the head coach.
“I would be lying to say I was able to block all that stuff out,” Bylsma said. “I’m not going to deny the thoughts and the feelings and those scenarios that go through your head. If I said, ‘No,’ I’d be totally lying to you and not truthful. And did I go home and have my son ask the question if I was going to be back as the coach of the Penguins? He did, he’s well aware of it too.”
This season, Bylsma became the quickest coach in NHL history to win 200 games. The milestone came back on April 21, against the Ottawa Senators in just his 316th career game. According to a statement from the team, Bylsma has the highest winning percentage in franchise history at .699. His 36 playoff wins are also a franchise record.
However, there will be one change with the coaching staff.
Goaltending coach Gilles Meloche has decided to step down after his 27th season with the team. This was his seventh season as the team’s full-time goaltending coach. He will stay on with the team as a special assignment scout.
The Penguins finished the regular season with 72 points, which earned them the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
After acquiring Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray at the trade deadline, the Penguins were all but expected to win the Stanley Cup.
Shero believes the players acquired at the deadline added what he thought they were going to add both off and on the ice.
The Penguins suffered a little bit of a scare in the first round against the New York Islanders, but ultimately advanced in six games.
In the second round, the Penguins appeared to have found their stride and easily dispatched the Ottawa Senators in five games.
However, things went off the rails in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bruins. The Penguins’ high-powered offense, which averaged over four goals a game in the first two rounds, lit the lamp only twice while being swept.
The Penguins never held a lead in the series.
“I couldn’t imagine, I’m not sure anybody could imagine our team being shut down the way it was offensively. Credit to the Boston Bruins and their goaltender. But, with high expectations comes bigger disappointment and our expectations were higher,” Shero said.
As far as adjustments being made in the series, Shero said the forecheck was adjusted prior to Game 3 and was very effective as the Penguins carried much of the play.
But, why weren’t some of the adjustments made ahead of Game 2, which the Penguins lost 6-1?
“In Game 2, I’ve asked our players and coaches and I don’t have an answer as to what happened at least not yet,” Shero said.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been tabbed as the franchise goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, he struggled for a second straight postseason and was replaced by Tomas Vokoun after Game 4 in the first round.
However, Shero’s faith in Fleury is as high as ever.
“I’m not getting rid of Marc-Andre Fleury. I’ve had that conversation with him provided Marc wants to be part of it here and come back. He’s a young goalie, 28-years-old,” Shero said. “It’s difficult to replace 40 wins a year.”
Shero spoke very highly of Vokoun and his relationship with Fleury since arriving in Pittsburgh.
“We got very fortunate on Tomas Vokoun,” Shero said. “Tomas is the perfect guy for what we have going on here.”
Bylsma echoed Shero’s comments and praise of Fleury.
“In terms of Marc-Andre Fleury, the number of games he’s won, what he’s done in our net the last four years, what he’s done during the regular season, there’s no question he’s going to go in that net and win hockey games for this team,” Bylsma said.
Now, Shero has several tough decisions to make this summer.
Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin each have one year left on their current contracts and fitting both under the salary cap could be problematic moving forward.
Several forwards are set to become unrestricted free agents as well, including Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Iginla.
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