There’s every reason to believe Dan Bylsma’s job as coach of the Penguins rides on the outcome of tonight’s decisive second-round Stanley Cup playoff game against the New York Rangers. Not even his staunchest supporters could think otherwise.
Which leads to this question: Will this knowledge urge the players to greater effort? Or lesser effort?
As highly paid professionals, the Penguins should be expected to play at their highest level every night and that’s particularly true during the playoffs. Still, it has been fairly obvious that the Penguins have not been getting the kind of effort normally expected at this point in the NHL season.
Players are the primary owners of their performance, their level of exertion, their degree of focus and almost all on-ice endeavors. But when those areas falter, in the end, it comes back to the coach. It doesn’t matter exactly what level of responsibility he has in those areas, in the end, they all belong to him.
General manager Ray Shero has stood firmly behind Bylsma in the face of playoffs eliminations in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 against lower-seeded teams. It’s not known if ownership -- Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle -- agree with this assessment or simply allowed Shero to make the final decision.
It seems hard to imagine Shero still could stand behind Bylsma if the Penguins lose tonight, after holding a 3-1 lead in games against a team that is widely considered to be inferior in terms of talent. If he does continue to stand strong, he might learn that general managers of disappointing teams also are in job jeopardy.
If Bylsma is fired, it won’t be for the laundry list of items that fans bring to blogs, chat rooms and talk shows. If coaches were fired for fan dissatisfaction, there would be monthly changes in all sports. Bylsma is not quite the dunce some fans perceive him to be. He is not clueless to the strategies of the game. If anything, he seems more cerebral than many of his peers.
He easily could have been a finalist for the Jack Adams Award this season considering the Penguins finished with the sixth most points in the NHL despite an avalanche of injuries to key players.
Bylsma won’t be fired for any specific errors of coaching but because the team -- for whatever reason -- has failed not only to deliver a second Stanley Cup but failed to even make the final round again. It won’t be the chapter and verse that will undo Bylsma. It will be the whole book.
Ownership has a right to expect more than it has received. And it’s not just the most famous sports trophy in the world they covet. It’s also the dollars that come with playing four rounds of postseason hockey.
These earlier-than-expected eliminations have cost them not just millions but tens of millions in revenue. The Penguins were eliminated in the second round in 2010, the first round in 2011 and 2012 and if they lose tonight the second round in 2014. If they had just advanced one more round each season -- a reasonable expectation in at least three of those years -- the financial windfall would be staggering. Their failure to win a game in the conference final last year prevented the organization from reaping an enormous payday for just a third home game -- let alone a fourth.
Ticket prices for the playoffs are ridiculously high. A conference final ticket might cost as much as $400. Each game is a multimillion dollar gate. Every series can be as much as $10 million to $15 million. Multiply that by the number of series missed and you have a large fortune.
The potential dynasty has never come to fruition under Bylsma and with a loss tonight there's no indication it ever will. That is his cardinal coaching crime.