Small thoughts at large -- May 26
Some points to ponder on this Memorial Day:
*** Unless the Penguins’ next general manager has retaining Dan Bylsma forced upon him as a condition of getting the job – and it would be folly to rule out that possibility at this point – it’s hard to imagine that Bylsma will be behind the Penguins’ bench this fall. Any GM, if given the chance, would prefer to choose his own coach, for obvious reasons. Especially in a situation in which immediate success will be expected, which certainly is the case with the Penguins.
*** Should Bylsma keep his job, it will be interesting to see just how strong the public backlash will be. He has emerged as the primary public lightning rod for the Penguins’ five-year run of playoff disappointments, and it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that his return could have a negative impact on ticket sales. That doesn’t mean the negative reaction would be enough to jeopardize the sellout streak at Consol Energy Center, however.
*** If Ray Shero’s replacement does accept the position despite being told who he must have as coach, it won’t say much for the authority he will have on other personnel issues. When Ken Sawyer stepped down from his job as team president, Shero is believed to have had his contract revised so that he reported directly to ownership. The next GM almost certainly will not have that freedom, because he is expected to be compelled to report to team president David Morehouse. That means Morehouse could have the final say on hockey-operations decisions if he chooses to exercise it.
*** Although the process still is playing out and ownership has dropped a cone of silence on how the GM search is going, it certainly does seem as if Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois should be the betting favorite at this point.
*** Ownership’s contention that Shero lost his job, at least in part, because of poor drafting rang pretty hollow from the start, in part the 2014 draft will be handled by the same scouts who were making the selections when Shero was in charge. The only difference is, now those guys know they’re in real danger of being out of work by the end of next month – a GM has to be allowed to put together the scouting staff of his choice – which might make them less inclined to argue forcefully at the draft table on behalf of a prospect they are convinced would be an asset for the franchise.
*** The key term in the previous item is “asset.” With the occasional exception of teams choosing very early in the first round, NHL clubs – unlike those in the NFL – don’t seek immediate help from the draft, because so few prospects are NHL-ready at 18 or 19. Rather, teams tend to go, trite as if might sound, for the “best athlete available,” because they want the player most likely to be able to compete in the NHL someday. The thinking is that even if the team drafting an NHL-caliber talent doesn’t have a place for him when he’s capable of playing in the league, he can be put on the trade market to address another need the team might have. Shero was criticized in some quarters for investing so many early-round selections in defensemen, but if he could be blamed for anything in that regard, it’s not turning enough of those defensemen into NHL-caliber forwards, via trades. Because a good young defenseman who projects as a contributor in the NHL is an asset like few others.
*** As soon as the Penguins settle on a new GM, rumors of trades involving high-profile players – guys like James Neal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury, among others – figure to begin to swirl around at supersonic speeds. A few of them might even turn out to be accurate. A very few. Good luck figuring out, with any degree of certainly, just which ones those will be.
*** The Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre is tied with St. John, 1-1, in the Eastern Conference final in the American Hockey League playoffs and could clinch a spot in the Calder Cup final by beating the IceCaps in Games 3, 4 and 5 this week at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre. Baby Penguins coach John Hynes was a pretty intriguing candidate for an NHL job – be it with the Penguins or another club – before his team’s playoff run, but his stock should be rising even more these days. If the next GM is allowed to replace Bylsma, it would be negligent to not give Hynes serious consideration for the position.
*** We’re able to discuss things like GM searches and minor-league playoff runs because of the sacrifices made by many generations of veterans, so many of whom gave up their lives to protect our freedoms. If you see a vet today, thank him/her for their service. Wouldn’t hurt to do it tomorrow, too. And the next day. And the one after that. And every other day for as long as we enjoy the lives they’ve made possible.