During last night’s broadcast of the Game 7 matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, analyst Mike “Doc” Emrick made an observation that sums up the state of Pittsburgh hockey pretty well. He noted that, though the Penguins latest Stanley Cup win was just five years ago, it certainly feels like it’s been much longer than that.
We know now the wait is going to be one more year at the very least. Pittsburgh, who had the Rangers on the ropes just last week with a 3-1 series lead, lost their third straight, resulting in their elimination from the postseason. It has now been five straight years where the Penguins’ playoff hopes were dashed by a lower seeded team.
Pittsburgh will now spend the next few days collecting themselves from another postseason letdown, but don’t expect the drama to be gone for long. Make no mistake; the team is going to have some shakeups coming their way.
At this point, frustration has to have hit its peak. How else would you react to the latest postseason exit for the Penguins? After ripping off three straight wins, and very dominant wins at that, the team inexplicably fell flat when it mattered most. Pittsburgh outscored the Rangers 9-2 in Games 2 through 4, and then scored just one goal in each of the final three bouts. New York looked lifeless at points, and a Penguins series victory appeared to be imminent. What happened next almost implied the team expected the Rangers to roll over and accept their fate.
They didn’t. New York fought back, looking so much more motivated than their opponent it was astonishing. Now, after Pittsburgh fans were forced to watch their team skate off the ice with heads hung low, they’re left to wonder who on the team might not be back next year.
First of all, it appears coach Dan Bylsma is the most likely candidate to take the fall. Despite bringing his team to the postseason at an incredibly consistent basis, this latest defeat is expected to be the one that does him in. He’s a solid coach, but in a “what have you done for me lately” NHL world, it won’t matter. The front office has to show the fans they won’t stand for this type of failure, and axing a coach is the easiest way to do so.
As far as the roster goes, that’s anyone’s guess. It will no doubt be retooled, but how so? We all know Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin obviously aren’t going anywhere. But what about goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, consistently a lightning rod for criticism this time of year? He had more memorable gaffes this postseason, and you have to wonder if the team is growing tired of having to hold their breath anytime a puck nears his crease. With just one more year on his contract – he’ll be paid $5 million next season – don’t be surprised of the Penguins kick the tires in the trade market.
Pittsburgh will no doubt try to spend the offseason adding more forward depth. Crosby and Malkin are otherworldly talented, but they can’t do it on their own. The team saw solid contributions from Jussi Jokinen, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter this postseason, but other than that scoring was relatively low from the forwards. Addressing this should be on the top of the team’s offseason to-do list.
These are just a few likely moves the Penguins make once offseason sets in. Whether or not they fulfill themselves is anyone’s guess at this point. One thing is for sure though; Pittsburgh isn’t happy about yet another early playoff exit, and changes will be thrown down as a result.