*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. Penguins head coach Mike Johnston is a coach that looks to be overwhelmed right now and quite surprised at what’s transpiring with this hockey club in that his message just isn’t getting through.
Johnston is a believer and rightfully so that it’s not always about the scoreboard but it’s about whether you’re playing the right way. There was a sequence in the second period of last night’s game when the Penguins started breaking down defensively and Johnston is shown on a couple occasions trying to fire up his team and there was no response what so ever from the players and it looked like he was talking to a block wall.
As others have said, the Penguins are a group that feels one Stanley Cup made them entitled and it started long ago with everyone in the organization always telling them how good they are.
Mike Johnston has his flaws, especially systematic wise that’s we’ve gone over the last couple weeks, but he was also setup with a roster that management thinks is much better than it is, leading to what’s going to be Stanley Cup or bust type expectations this spring from those who sign his check.
The Penguins winning a round and being competitive in round 2 but still losing to let’s say the Rangers, I’d still chalk that up as a success for this group.
However, because management and ownership have tagged this club with Stanley Cup expectations and David Morehouse made that bright and clear last spring, it’s only right to evaluate them that way, and evaluating them in that matter — this is a sinking ship.
To complicate matters for Johnston and his staff of late, the General Manager and one of the assistant General Managers having a such a big presence in the room and pulling players to the side before and after games during what is normally a coaches time with his team, has led to the coaching staff also feeling undermined.
There’s just not a good combination going on right now. I was very critical of Ray Shero late last season but one thing he did was stay out of the way when it came to stuff like that.
At the root of the Penguins problems, though, is whether this core group is coachable?
Last season Dan Bylsma tried to change and go from being a players coach to a demanding coach with more extensive meetings that players told Ray Shero in exit meetings after the Bruins series that they needed more of.
Suddenly last season wasn’t fun enough for them.
Now Johnston who is looked at by some around the game as a “teacher” type of coach and why he’s probably more suited for a rebuilding team, comes in and there’s whispers that players are disgruntled due to their still being too many meetings/instruction and over-extended stays in cities after games as the Penguins no longer leave all the time right after games like before.
Johnston was always going to struggle to get the core group to buy-in, and while maybe the Penguins become the rare team that is able to flip the switch come playoff time, this situation is shaping up where the Penguins might need a lunatic like Mike Keenan or John Tortorella to come aboard and start making things uncomfortable for everyone before this team returns to prominence.
2. One thing ownership decided in the summer is they would stay out of the way for the most part (for one season) and let Jim Rutherford do his job. That’s not going to last. Questions are already being asked and it wasn’t surprising to see Mario Lemieux and Team President David Morehouse huddled with Rutherford at practice today.
The suggestion that Rutherford would pull a Lou Lamoriello and try to save what looks like a sinking ship with a coaching change so late in the season would only happen if it was ordered by ownership. There’s no signs that’s coming. If the Penguins go out this weekend with a whimper against Arizona and San Jose with Malkin, Hornqvist in the lineup, who knows, but still a very unlikely scenario for now.
However, I broached the subject with two scouts and one executive today and whether turning to Rick Tocchet would accomplish anything.
Tocchet had support from one, but interesting enough, all three brought up John Hynes in Wilkes Barre.
“I really like him,” the executive said. “He’s demanding and abrasive.”
3. How Dan Bylsma is valued by NHL GM’s will be something to watch this summer as the coaching market will be flooded with prominent names, among them Mike Babcock, the biggest fish, and likely Claude Julien, Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett and potentially even a Bruce Boudreau if Anaheim falters, and you can add Ken Hitchcock to that list if the Blues have another quick exit. Not to mention up and coming AHL coaches and free agents out there already in Bylsma, Peter DeBoer, Ron Wilson, John Tortorella, Randy Carlyle, Paul MacLean, Marc Crawford who interviewed with the Penguins and eyes a return to the NHL, among others.
It’s going to be a market we’ve never seen with so many prominent names and there’s going to be more buzz about the coaches available than the players.
Bylsma thinks of himself as a top coaching candidate and we’ll find out in a few months whether that’s true or not. Philadelphia, Buffalo, Anaheim are three potential openings that would be of strong interest to Bylsma, sources say, but if a Shero/Bylsma reunion is going to happen, bet on San Jose.
For Bylsma, if only had Shero cut the cord after the Bruins series, he would be the coach of the New York Rangers right now. They were prepared to hire him over Alain Vigneault if Bylsma became available.
4. NHL teams will be poaching the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. Chicago’s a team even without Patrick Kane for the first couple rounds, that remains a top contender to get back to the Stanley Cup Final this season, but it was a missed opportunity for them with this group in just falling short last year at what could have been a third Stanley Cup in five years.
Now the second tear down of shipping out pricey veterans due to cap reasons begins this summer.
Here’s what TSN’s Bob McKenzie had to say about the Blackhawks on Thursday afternoon.
“This group that’s going for the Cup this year, as it’s constructed – I mean, Bickell could be gone. Versteeg could be gone. Brent Seabrook may eventually be gone. He’s a year away from unrestricted free agency. There’s no question in my mind that Johnny Oduya is not likely to be back,” McKenzie said on TSN Radio.
McKenzie said Patrick Sharp is also a goner.
“Oh, Sharp will be gone. Sharp’s gone. Sharp is gone for sure.
“I think they’ll be able to keep Hossa around. But I think Bickell is probably at some point is likely to be gone. Versteeg is likely to be gone.”
5. Give or take whether Jared Hughes makes the team or not, the Pirates 25-man opening day roster projects to come in around $80 million, up nearly $9 million from 2014 opening day roster and $14 million from 2013. The Pirates 40-man roster currently projects to come in around $90 million, and like last season the Pirates organizational budget is believed to be around $95 million.
The St. Louis Cardinals are said to be the standard for the Pirates moving forward and some readers were bringing them up in the comments forum yesterday —
CARDINALS 25-MAN PAYROLL
2012 | $111,858,500 | MLB AVG: $100,713,309
2013 | $116,505,000 | MLB AVG: $106,582,197
2014 | $111,250,000 | MLB AVG: $115,273,908
2015 | $115,357,500 | MLB AVG: $118,966,207
PIRATES 25-MAN PAYROLL
2012 | $51,932,333 | MLB AVG: $100,713,309
2013 | $66,805,000 | MLB AVG: $106,582,197
2014 | $71,929,333 | MLB AVG: $115,272,908
2015 | $80,145,832 (current projection) | MLB AVG: $118,966,207
Here’s the wrinkle — The Cardinals are consistently spending around the MLB average and plan to significantly increase payroll in a few years. The Pirates project to be around $40 million under the MLB average for 2015.
The Kansas City Royals are a better comparable to the Pirates. The Royals have increased their payroll (25-man) from $64 million in 2012, $81 million in 2013, $93 million in 2014 and nearing the MLB Average this season with a payroll projection of around $110 million.
Yes, the Pirates have raised their payroll on a year by year basis since 2012, but interesting enough, they’ve remained $40-$50 million under the MLB Avg for a 25-man payroll during that span.
— The TIOPS Daily Five returns Monday —