It's no surprise that a head went rolling down Washington Place outside of Consol Energy Center.
The surprise lies in the identity of the head—it belongs to Ray Shero, not coach Dan Bylsma.
The Pittsburgh Penguins relieved Shero of his duties Friday morning, three days after the team blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to the New York Rangers in the conference semifinals in seven games.
Many, myself included, expected Bylsma would also fall victim to the axe, yet he received a reprieve. It may only be a temporary stay, however, as ownership said that the coaching staff was still being evaluated. But before that news was revealed, the word from those who barter in inside knowledge had Bylsma being fired as well.
PIT will announce this morning GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma have been fired. #TSN— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 16, 2014
That turned out to not be the case. Or maybe that information was true at the time but something changed at the final minute.
I reported Shero and Bylsma were to be fired. Shero was. Bylsma wasn't.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 16, 2014
What's more likely re: Bylsma: That all those reports from all those guys were false, or that there was a last-minute swerve?— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) May 16, 2014
Maybe the Penguins felt there was a dearth of worthy replacements? Maybe they decided firing someone for the sake of firing them wasn't a good idea? No matter the way it went down, it went down with Bylsma remaining behind the bench, at least for now.
David Morehouse: Bylsma's status will be determined by the new GM.— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) May 16, 2014
It's possible, and perhaps probable, whoever the ownership group hires to be the new GM fires Bylsma as their first order of business, but it may not necessarily be a slam-dunk move.
Take a look around the league at some of the collapses a couple of other teams endured and the fallout from those situations.
The San Jose Sharks, perennial disappointments in the postseason, took their playoff failures to new heights in 2014. They squandered a 3-0 series lead in the first round to the Los Angeles Kings by losing four straight, including Game 7 on home ice.
Yet coach Todd McLellan survived.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that mistakenly thought of itself as a contender and found itself in third place in the East with a month to go, imploded and missed the playoffs entirely. This was a team that reached the postseason in 2013 and added a big-ticket free agent in David Clarkson over the summer.
Yet coach Randy Carlyle survived.
Once is meaningless. Twice could be coincidence. But this happening three times can now be considered a trend.
Source tells me Bylsma was kept on because there is a definite supply problem with NHL coaches. IMO, that supply problem will only be worse— Hockey Buzz Eklund (@Eklund) May 16, 2014
It's possible these teams have come to the realization that the best coach in hockey—Detroit's Mike Babcock—could become available at the end of next season.
Babcock let the world know in April that he has no interest in signing an extension to a contract that expires after this season. He's well aware of the fact that he will have his pick of any coaching opening in the league next summer, should he choose that path. He will very likely want to coach a contender, and the Penguins definitely fit that bill.
Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika is based in Detroit and knows Babcock as well as anyone. He offered his assessment on the situation.
Opinion: I think Babcock will play out the last season of his contract and assess his options this time next year. (3)— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) May 16, 2014
Opinion: Babcock likes Detroit. He works fine with Holland. But he knows he will have great options. Why not leave options open? (4)— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) May 16, 2014
There's one line of reasoning that states it's wise to retain a coach like Bylsma, who has guided his teams to 100-point seasons since he arrived in 2009. To judge a coach on a small sample size like the playoffs can be short-sighted, especially if ownership acknowledged the roster was poorly formulated by firing the general manager.
Then again, this is a Penguins team that has been knocked out of the playoffs in five straight seasons by a lower-seeded team.
When the Boston Bruins swept the Penguins last year, they may have been the lower-seeded team, but they were the superior team. Bylsma gets a pass for that 2011 team that blew a 3-1 series to the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the playoffs. You don't blame a NASCAR driver for losing a race because his car was missing a steering wheel and gear shifter.
But this year's Rangers team that was down 3-1 was wobbly and ripe for a knockout punch. All the blame shouldn't fall on Bylsma, but he definitely played his part for not being able to finish the exhausted Rangers.
With the way the cards fell Friday, it seems like Bylsma has an above-average chance at being behind the bench next season. He never deserved to be fired on anything resembling merit, as teams would be stumbling over each other to hire him. If Shero hadn't failed in his duties of assembling a bottom-six forward group that could be at least competent, the Penguins could have banked a second Stanley Cup under Bylsma's regime.
The one thing that could get Bylsma fired before next season is if Crosby and Malkin express displeasure with their coach to the new GM behind closed doors. Crosby was seen arguing with Bylsma on the bench during the Rangers series—not the biggest of deals, as star players disagree with coaches all the time, it's just not always so public—and Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported the team's stars were growing weary of Bylsma this season.
This could also be a public relations move by the Penguins, an attempt to distance themselves from the narrative of "Crosby got Bylsma fired" by waiting to have a new general manager pull the trigger.
Holding off on firing Bylsma protects Sidney Crosby from the "He got the coach fired" talk. Now it's on the new GM.— Chris Botta (@ChrisBottaNHL) May 16, 2014
It's anyone's guess at this point what will happen with Bylsma. Here's one guess—Bylsma gets one more season and, if it doesn't meet expectations, Babcock is behind the bench in Pittsburgh in 2015-16.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.
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