Just when it appeared that there was a real chance the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to do something completely insane (like potentially hire Pierre McGuire to be their new general manager), they ended up taking the safe and conservative route.
And it still seemed to leave the impression that they may not fully know what they're doing.
The team continued its front office overhaul on Friday by announcing the hiring of Jim Rutherford as its new general manager. They then announced the firing of coach Dan Bylsma, a move that had been expected for nearly a month.
Along with those moves there were also several promotions within the front office that will see several old faces sticking around. Jason Botterill, the assistant general manager under the recently fired Ray Shero, has been "promoted" to the role of associate general manager, while Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald have been promoted to assistant general managers.
It was a strange sequence of moves in a strange offseason that has at times led to more questions than answers when it comes to the overall direction of the organization. Let's start with the big questions, specifically, why Rutherford and what can he bring to the organization that Shero could not?
Can Rutherford bring what Shero did not?
Changing general managers was not the wrong move. While Shero's track record in Pittsburgh was a good one overall, there were several issues with the construction of the team over the past several years that were holding it back and preventing it from returning to the Stanley Cup Final. Poor depth, years of drafts that did not produce NHL talent and poor asset management that saw the team continually trade away first-and second-round picks for rentals that did little to improve the team were all becoming serious issues. All of that has to fall on the GM, and it did.
But is Rutherford the guy to fix that? And what sort of stamp is he going to put on the team?
The Hurricanes' draft history under Rutherford was just as spotty as the Penguins' was under Shero, and the Hurricanes in recent years had the same issues with depth that the Penguins have had, though with a significantly smaller budget to work with.
On one hand, Rutherford correctly identified what was perhaps the Penguins' biggest problem the past couple of years: their bottom-six forwards. He continued what seems to be a standard new general manager talking point when he talked about analytics (seemingly unprompted) as a tool, and then took it one step further by pointing out that the Penguins weren't up to speed on where they need to be with it.
But then he went and started talking about plus-minus, which is where hockey analytics go to die a grim death.
Rutherford talks a lot about analytics. Also uses plus/minus to describe weak supporting cast.— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) June 6, 2014
It's sometimes hard to tell when managers are simply paying lip-service to new ideas because they feel they have to due to the changing culture in the NHL, or if they really believe in them and will utilize them as part of the process. More information is good, and it can open your eyes to something you may have previously missed (a point that Rutherford also made on Friday).
But if one of the first places you go to is plus-minus, that's probably not an encouraging start. To his credit, some of his recent moves in Carolina did seem to lean toward moves that would have been influenced by shot-based analytics, such as signing Alex Semin when nobody else wanted him and trading for players like Andrej Sekera and Andrei Loktionov.
Rutherford is just a bridge
Where this gets weird is that by nearly all accounts it seems he is simply a bridge to somebody else already in the organization. An established hockey man and guiding hand for one of the many young associate and assistant general managers that remain in the organization that are simply waiting to take over the controls in the not too distant future.
Why not skip the bridge and simply go to Botterill right now?
For years he has been an executive that has been considered one of the young up-and-coming general manager candidates in the league, and he's been an assistant in the organization for five full years. What more could he possibly have to learn at this point? Sure, he would have been the youngest general manager in the league at age 38, but who cares? Stan Bowman took over the Chicago Blackhawks when he was 35. Peter Chiarelli was 41 when he was hired by the Boston Bruins.
And then we get to Bylsma, whose seat has been getting hotter with every postseason exit over the past five years.
The handling of Dan Bylsma
When the Penguins held their first press conference this offseason to announce the firing of Shero, it was assumed that Bylsma would be going with him that same day. But he didn't, and instead the Penguins kept him around until a new general manager was brought in and they fired him on Friday, a move that has led to some scathing criticism for jerking him around and not giving him a chance to pursue other jobs, especially when it seems that the Penguins intended to fire him all along.
Overhaul in Pittsburgh
Overhaul in Pittsburgh
Now, only three head coach openings exist in the NHL. Were they still trying to figure out what to do with him? Or, to put on the conspiracy theory cap for a second, was it simply a ploy to keep him from taking a job with a division rival (like, say, the Washington Capitals)? If it's the latter, that's worthy of criticism and a pretty low move. And it also brings up the question of if you're so worried about him coaching against you and in your division, why are you in such a rush to fire him?
While Bylsma is always vilified for his perceived lack of adjustments and determination to stick with his way of doing things, it's not like the Penguins were in a bad situation with him. They won a ton of games and were never slowed down despite injuries to core players.
But because they didn't win enough Stanley Cups, the whole thing was deemed a failure.
This is a delicate time for the Penguins as the organization reaches a crossroads.
It's clear that their bar is set at winning a Stanley Cup and anything short of that, especially over a stretch of multiple seasons, is going to be deemed not good enough. In their eyes, the team has underachieved since winning it all back in 2009 and changes needed to be made.
Sometimes change is necessary. But there is a fine line between making the necessary changes and going too far in the opposite direction; risking serious damage to your organization.
We could be looking back at this offseason as a real turning point in the franchise and the time that everything changed. Sometimes those changes aren't for the better.