Questions to consider
1. If Ray Shero lost his job as general manager because ownership didn’t like his drafting record or a purported lack of character players on the NHL roster, why wasn’t he told to get rid of Jay Heinbuck, who heads the team’s amateur scouting operation, or Dan MacKinnon, who is in charge of pro scouting?
Shero readily acknowledged that he did not personally make selections at the draft table, and for a pretty good reason: Scouts were the ones who spend the entire winter evaluating and ranking draft-eligible players, while Shero saw a limited number of college and major-junior games every season.
Shero certainly can be held accountable for any shortcomings among the amateur scouting staff, since he was the one who hired – or at the very least, signed off on the hiring of – those people, but there is ample precedent for upper management giving a GM an opportunity to replace subordinates, be they coaches or scouts or whatever, at least once before his job is in jeopardy.
(While there was some turnover on the Penguins’ scouting staffs during Shero’s eight years in charge, the only head coach he replaced, Michel Therrien, had been promoted from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre by Shero’s predecessor, Craig Patrick.)
All of that does nothing to dispel the nagging feeling that Shero was fired for reasons beyond those publicly laid out during and after a press conference last Friday.
2. Unless interim GM Jason Botterill is chosen to replace Shero, how many people in the hockey operations department will remain in the organization?
Ownership’s effusive praise of coach Dan Bylsma after Shero was fired notwithstanding, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario under which he and his assistants retain their jobs, especially if the next GM comes from another organization.
While it’s not clear if Botterill, who was Shero’s assistant, getting the job would enhance the chances of Bylsma and his staff staying, it probably would go a long way toward securing the futures of a lot of people in hockey ops. That includes former players such as assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald and player development coach Bill Guerin, both of whom are highly regarded in hockey circles and are seen as up-and-comers in the business.
Should Shero’s successor come from elsewhere, the newcomer would be much more likely to clean house and install people with whom he is more familiar and/or comfortable.
Whether anything could save at least some of the people in scouting-related positions is another matter. Given that ownership has openly expressed displeasure with drafts and, more subtly, with players added via free agency, it’s difficult to imagine that the new GM, whoever he is, wouldn’t feel compelled to make at least some changes.
3. How serious of a look will John Hynes get when the next GM begins searching for a coach?
The key, again, probably is whether Botterill is the next GM. As Shero’s assistant, he has served as GM of the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre, where Hynes has established himself as a top candidate for an NHL coaching spot.
Indeed, while Wilkes-Barre has become a reliable training ground for NHL coaches – Bylsma, Therrien (Montreal) and Todd Richards (Columbus) all labored there – one Baby Penguins official, speaking confidentially, said recently that Hynes is more NHL-ready than any of his predecessors.
Botterill clearly is aware of how much Hynes has contributed to the consistent success of the Baby Penguins, who are in the Eastern Conference final of the American Hockey League playoffs. It seems unlikely that someone from another organization would have quite as much of an appreciation of Hynes, and that can’t help his chances of getting a promotion to the NHL for next season.
4. If, as many observers seem to believe, Shero inexorably linked his fate to that of Bylsma when he signed Bylsma to a contract extension in 2013, why aren’t both out of a job now?
Assuming that ownership determined that Shero should lose his job because the Penguins did not perform to expectations in recent seasons, which is generally accepted to be the case, it’s difficult to understand how the coach held onto his job, even temporarily.
Was it the GM who didn’t have his team focused and ready for the first four games of the Columbus series, or for Game 1 against the New York Rangers in the following round, when the Penguins failed to exploit a physically and emotionally spent opponent to trigger a run that could have led to a sweep of New York?
And while the players – from captain Sidney Crosby on down – absolutely must be held accountable for squandering a 3-1 lead against the Rangers in that series, doesn’t the coach again bear some responsibility for the Penguins being to obviously unprepared to compete in Game 5, when the Rangers began their comeback?
Given all of that – to say nothing of the Penguins’ entire five-year run of playoff fizzles – the decision to retain Bylsma is every bit as baffling now as it was nearly a week ago. The only thing that might be more stunning is if he still is behind the Penguins’ bench when training camp opens in September.