Don’t mean to sound too harsh here, but close shouldn’t be good enough this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Quite obviously, I’m not the guy who makes any decisions for the franchise, but there seems to be a threshold — at least from this vantage — that the Penguins need to reach or there should be some major changes.
Simply: Stanley Cup Finals or bust.
Sound harsh? Well, it’s just an opinion. And I’m hard-pressed to think I’m alone in such an opinion.
Since the 2008-09 season, when the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup with that marvelous victory over the Detroit Red Wings, we all know what’s happened in the postseason.
Many of us can chant out the series’ the Penguins have faltered in like some funeral dirge.
The 2009-10 loss to the Canadiens in the conference semifinals.
The 2010-11 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference quarterfinals.
The 2011-12 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers — in one of the ugliest hockey series in recent memory — in the conference quarterfinals.
Then last season, the Penguins getting swarmed under and swept, four-games-to-zip against the Boston Bruins in the conference finals.
Four season, four disappointments.
That’s all in the past. However, the future, as it was unveiled on Sunday afternoon, is right here in front of these Penguins.
The Penguins will begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday as they play host to Columbus in the first round. Game 2 of the series is set for Saturday, also at the CONSOL Energy Center.
The winner of that best-of-seven series advances to play the winner of the Flyers-Rangers series.
There should be an ultimatum before one second is played in these playoffs: The Penguins win the Eastern Conference or coach Dan Bylsma pays with his job.
There should be another one: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury puts his playoff demons behind him, acquits himself well in these playoffs, or the club should attempt trade him.
Do both of those sound harsh? You bet.
But, if the Penguins don’t get to the Stanley Cup Finals this season, how many times is the fan base supposed to clutch to the notion that next year will be the year? If the Penguins don’t get back to the Cup Finals this season, doesn’t there need to, finally, be a seismic shift in some things, a realization that maybe the way business is being conducted is a tad off-kilter?
The Penguins have been in the patiently waiting business the last four season; if they can’t get to the ultimate series this season — with such a great assemblage of talent — it is time to be in the acting business. Nothing, outside of trading Sidney Crosby, shouldn’t be considered if they fall short again this season.
You can talk about all those lost man-games due to injury in the regular season until you can’t talk anymore. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much right now.
You can talk about how Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Evgeni Malkin and Marcel Goc will be fighting back — in various degrees — even as the playoffs get underway and drift through the first round. That’s all well and good too, but it doesn’t mean much right now.
Right now, people should want results. To take it a step farther, with the talent assembled on this hockey club, people should demand results.
If the Penguins don’t get those results — which would be for a fifth consecutive time — the franchise should act sternly and swiftly to change some things. And if the Penguins don’t get to the Stanley Cup Finals this season, the first places they need to look to act stern and swift should be with Bylsma and Fleury.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.