A few weeks have gone by since the Pens cleaned out their lockers and resumed normal, daily lives. The dust has settled enough to bring up a few points, which have mostly been covered on the blog before, though while tensions were running high.
This season brought the team together in a way I don’t believe I have seen in quite a few years. The absence of the Captain forced new thinking and strategy in the team. What happened was beautiful. Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, and Matt Cooke all had career seasons.
The most amazing thing about Staal’s season was that he had a career season in 62 games played, missing 20 games due to a knee injury. The saddest part of the season is that Staal is being snubbed for the Selke. His defensive abilities shined this season and playing less games than Bergeron, Backes, and Datsyuk, who knows what he could have accomplished with the additional 20 games under his belt.
Unfortunately, if Staal does ever get the coveted Selke Trophy, it may not be with the Pens. The Pens are tight on the cap and with James Neal’s new contract they’re several million in the hole. Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin’s contracts are harder to get out of than Alcatraz. Someone is going to have to go…Teams are interested in Staal, who’s contract is up for renewal for the 2013-2014 season. He is currently at $4 million a season.
Someone has to go and of our three star centers, Staal is the most likely. (This topic will be covered in a joint blog between myself and Meesh from Crosby…For the Win! and @schneid3306.)
The biggest thing that needs to be addressed is Dan Bylsma’s approach to coaching. Not entirely, but Bylsma tends to be stubborn and usually at the cost of the team by being persistent at sticking with failed methods. He seems to make unnecessary changes and neglects to make adjustments necessary to defeat other teams.
We saw proof of this in the playoffs against the Flyers. You cannot use the same strategy against every team and Bylsma did not make the proper moves to work against Philly’s special teams.
It goes without saying that the Pens need assistance defensively. Kris Letang is another player who could potentially be on the trade block. Letang’s contract is locked down through 2013-2014 season, but he will want to renegotiate prior to. So much of our cap being locked up is basically holding guys hostage. They are stuck taking hometown discounts, or they walk. But either way, someone is going to have to leave.
The Pens have great defense coming up in Simon Despres, Joe Morrow and Scott Harrington, but Depres is the only of the three that we know for sure is NHL ready. Morrow likely will get a tryout in the fall depending on how to performs at camp and in the preseason. I hope that Morrow is ready. If he isn’t, I think that he and Harrington making their way to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and getting some NHL ice time is very realistic possibility.
The other thing that the Pens, and Bylsma, need to work on, is properly integrating Sidney Crosby back into the team. While it seemed as though in his first few games back last season that the Pens had it figured out, Bylsma switched things around and things fell apart. Hockey isn’t about having the best players, it is about having the right combination of them. (Look at what the 8th seeded Kings have accomplished in the playoffs so far.)
The team cannot be about Sidney Crosby’s desired specifications. It has to be about what is best for the team: who is best at a particular spot on the power play, who is best on line together, who is best on PK together, who should be on the blue line together. This is a demon the Pens are battling but should not be.
What to do with Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi is another issue. DJ spent a good portion of this season recovering from injury, but the time he did spend on the ice had many scratching their heads as to why he was a healthy scratch night after night in favor of the struggling to catch up to NHL speed Tangradi. Tangradi showed some hope in the playoffs that he could be an NHLer yet, but many are wondering if Jeffrey peed on the carpet in the locker room because his extended absence is a great mystery to fans of his, like myself. (Free Dustin Jeffrey!)
This season showed a tremendous amount of success for this team. They are truly a force and every team out there should be afraid of them. But something went seriously awry when Crosby returned and I believe a lot of it was missteps in coaching. Either the coaching staff needs shaken up, or their mentality needs to change. I have great respect for Byslma, but he needs to make some adjustments and learn to be more flexible, or the Pens will look at a fourth early exit to the playoffs next season. At that point, it will be come a matter of who the coach should be and not what the coach should do. This post-season should serve as Bylsma’s warning shot from Penguin administration.
With the new collective bargaining agreement due this summer and free agency, it should be a busy summer for hockey and a real nail biter for Pens fans. Hopefully they can do what is necessary to bring this team back together.