By Allan Muir
Instead of holding his coach accountable for the team’s four-game ouster in the Eastern Conference Finals, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero gave Dan Bylsma a strong vote of confidence.
“I really believe we have a great head coach in Dan Bylsma…he’s the coach to move us forward,” Shero said in announcing a two-year extension for Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden.
Bylsma had a year remaining on his current deal, so the extension keeps him under contract through the 2015-16 season.
“I have a very good coach that I want to work with to lead this team,” Shero said. “I believe in Dan Bylsma. I believe in our coaching staff.”
Shero said he made the decision based on the entire season, not just the disappointing finish. He repeatedly pointed to the team’s 15-game winning streak, three-consecutive shutouts, and the adjustments made by the staff to address defensive issues in the wake of a crushing loss to the Flyers in last season’s playoffs as reasons why he felt comfortable with the status quo.
“He’s gotten better over the years. I think he can still get better as a coach,” Shero said.
Given ownership’s obvious frustrations with the team’s performance against Boston, there was no guarantee that Bylsma would be allowed to get better behind Pittsburgh’s bench. But the fact that he was retained now, with so many high-end coaches available who could have stepped smoothly into the position, shows how strongly Shero believes in him.
Shero also addressed the status of former MVP Evgeni Malkin and Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang. Both hit UFA status in the summer of 2014.
“Malkin and Letang are both under contract for another year,” he said. “They’re not going anywhere. Once the dust has settled a little bit, we’ll get into some conversations and get a plan in place.”
He also put to bed any rumors that he might toss his No. 1 goalie onto the trade market.
“I’m not getting rid of Marc-Andre Fleury,” Shero said. “The faith I have in him hasn’t waned. Nor has it for Dan.”
Fleury was replaced in the playoffs by backup netminder Tomas Vokoun, who Shero praised for being an ideal team player. Shero believes Fleury can get back to the elite level that helped carry the Pens to the 2009 Stanley Cup, but he’s comfortable with Vokoun’s readiness to carry the load or serve as backup.
It’ll interesting to see how Fleury responds to a new goaltending coach next season. Shero announced that Gilles Meloche was stepping down from the role to assume a less time-consuming job within the organization.