Collier: Despite meltdown, firing Bylsma remains an idea whose time has not come
April 18, 2012 2:00 AM
Dan Bylsma in his element on the practice ice.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On the day it started, exactly one week ago, I thought the Penguins-Flyers series would be lengthy, nasty, and as likely to be won by Philadelphia as not.
I still think all those things, for what it's worth, and take no satisfaction from the Meatloafian two-out-of-three already established. I expect the Penguins will get to their feet tonight and begin a win streak of two, three, maybe even four games, and if that looks foolish before 11 o'clock, well, it won't be my first time.
Also on the day it started, also one week ago, you couldn't find anyone who suspected the Penguins were short-handed behind the bench, from where Dan Bylsma had directed more playoff victories than any coach in the history of the franchise.
One week ago, the Penguins had no serious problems, few marginal problems, and zero problems that could be traced to within 10 logical miles of Bylsma.
So look, it's obviously too late for any essay that could earn a two-word summary like "remain calm," but this "Fire Bylsma" reaction to a week of frequent Flyer losses is deserving of a summary condemnation.
Relieving Disco Dan of his daily duties is an idea that doesn't rise to the level of, um, sanity. An accurate measurement of just how crazy it is would be nearly impossible, but. in reality. it's about a step-and-a-half forensically from saying "I wish the Nuttings would buy the Penguins."
Sidney Crosby, the captain of a team that somehow misplaced its playoff launch codes, Tuesday laid his own imprimatur on the notion that the head coach is probably the least of the Penguins' problems.
"We know in this room we have yet to put a game together," Crosby said after what might have been the last practice of the 2011-12 season at Consol Energy Center, "and that's no one's fault but our own."
Still, in hockey's uniquely insane interpersonal culture, the head coach is always among the most disposable people on the corporate roster. Michel Therrien, Bylsma's immediate predecessor, was coaching in the Stanley Cup final in June 2008 and fired the following Valentine's Day.
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Coaches get fired.
Now you are too.
If the Penguins lose again tonight, the thin ice Bylsma is on by virtue of that very culture will be shaved to half its depth. It doesn't help that the guy signing his checks had little more than contempt for coaches as he sculpted his own legend.
It helps even less that the Penguins have dropped six consecutive playoff games stretching to last April, or that the head coach has had no apparent answers for any of the geometric, atmospheric or even plainly generic problems posed by the Flyers, almost all of which could have been anticipated.
The key word in preceding paragraph is "apparent." Even if Bylsma had all the answers -- a much more likely scenario -- he can't jump over the boards with his tie flapping and implement them himself. What does MVP-in-waiting Evgeni Malkin do for a living again? Nothing, apparently, that can't be overcome by a 19-year-old with an attitude, in this case the Flyers' unflappable Sean Couturier. As for the Penguins' clueless blueliners, has there been a group of playoff defensemen at work anywhere that looks more desperate and inept since Tebow was a Bronco?
The long-term solutions to these matters aren't going to be made any easier by defenestrating Dan Bylsma, only made more complicated. I find it hard to believe, even within the hockey mentality, that Bylsma has only this much rope.
He won the organ-I-zation's third Stanley Cup before he was even on the job four months. He ran into the Savin' Slovak, Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak, playing out-of-his-mind hockey, and got bumped from the playoffs in the seventh game of the second round the following year. He went out of the first round last year, but his team had no Crosby and no Malkin, a big part of why it went 1 for 35 on the power play.
To fully mitigate it then, this is really the first time Bylsma has even wandered close to hockey's dangerous thin ice. That there are people who consider themselves serious who want the ice to give way is too close to incomprehensible to me. Here's a guy who probably still has the Jack Adams Award for most outstanding coach in the trunk of his car, along with the Dapper Dan Man of the Year thing and the poll results from the players union that showed he was the NHL boss for whom most players wished to play. That stuff is still so new he hasn't cleared any space in the house for it yet.
Bylsma is 41 years old. His record is 165-81-25. Only three coaches in NHL history got to 150 wins faster. He has been a great representative for the Penguins and for hockey.
If that can't get you through a bad week, then something is just wrong about this game. Bylsma would be unemployed for about 15 minutes, then coach another 25 years. The Penguins would regret it.