1) We have written extensively the past couple of months of the apparent downward spiral we believe the Pittsburgh organization has been on since their early departure from the Stanley Cup playoffs. It began with the inexplicable firing of Ray Shero. The man who helped assemble the team that won a Cup in 2009 and brought them to the Final 4 last season. Who like all GM's didn't have a blemishless record, but was certainly looked upon throughout the NHL as a top 5 GM. Then after having it leaked that Dan Bylsma was to be fired simultaneously as Shero, they retained him for 4 additional weeks. Twisting in the wind, seemingly to prevent him from being re-hired by a conference rival (DC?), then firing him anyway after several jobs were gone.
2) This certainly tainted the team image. All the while the face of the franchise, Mario Lemieux was not to be see/heard from. Then things got worse (in my opinion) when the team hired recently fired( retired-?) Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Ruthrford. While he's no Don Waddell, he certainly was NOT an upgrade from Shero, and many including Fauxrmors feel he was a few steps down. To make matters worse it was clear that Rutherford was brought in to bridge the time between Shero and asst GM Jason Botterill taking full control in 2-3 years. From there the coaching search, which should have started much earlier but had to wait because of the aforementioned Bylsma fiasco, made the organization look even more Mickey Mouse. The team coveted Calder Cup-winning coach Willie Desjardins of the American Hockey League's Texas Stars. Rutherford and the Pens looked immensely foolish when he first announced that he had found his coach, before he had signed him to a contract.Evidently, Desjardins believes the Vancouver Canucks job was a better one. Who could blame him, as he would be working for/hired by a lame duck GM
3) The Pens finally had few options left so they ended up hiring little regarded. Mike Johnston of the Portland Winterhawks to take over. Johnston was not on the Penguins' initial candidate list, or at least wasn't reported to be. After admitting the Penguins had lost out on their first attempt to hire a coach the Penguins re-opened the search and Rutherford said some new candidates would emerge. Johnston appears to be one of those and clearly it was close to love at first sight? While Johnston has a decent resume, he does NOT have any name recegnition and will the vets respond to him?
4) Then this weekend the latest salvos against the team. Rutherford trades one of the teams only wingers who can score, James Neal. Aside from the fact that Neal is one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL, it doesn't really solve any of the Penguins' problems. Pittsburgh has been crushed by a lack of depth because it pays 2-3 players near max money. In return the Pens got Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. No salary cap relief as the two players picked up will exceed Neal's salary and likely neither will combine to match his scoring, so in essence its a net negative.
5) Then the final nail in the Penguin coffin was the hiring of previously disgraced former Penguin player, Rick Tocchet. To review for some: Tocchet was suspended by the NHL for gambling allegations. Tocchet partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man, became public in February 2006. He was sentenced to two years' probation in August 2007 after pleading guilty in the investigation into the sports betting ring. Tocchet said he never bet on NHL games. (Didn't Pete Rose say something similar?) Tocchet rejoined Phoenix's coaching staff in February 2008 after a two-year absence that included a suspension by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. We believe you know someone based upon the company they keep. In that case Tocchet was mixed up with some very bad people who had ties to the Tony Soprano types in Jersey. We are told that Tocchet wasn't clean with respect to gambling LONG before this incident. One source told us then: "How do you think Rick met those 2 troopers?" WE hope for the sake of the game that Rick's proclivity to put a few bucks (and take the bets of others) are done.
6) Tocchets past aside the real issue we have with this move is that Rick and team owner Mario Lemieux are ass-tight buddies. Seen playing golf together, and frequently they and their families are seen socially together. How will this make the new coach feel? Add to this that the new coach Mike Johnston wasn't part of the process of picking his assts makes for a less than ideal situation for a new to the NHL coach. Is his replacement already here? How much can he trust Tocchet? Will he go behind his back to tell the owner stuff that should stay in 'the room'? Which leads us to ask why is Mario getting a pass on this from the hockey media?
7) All in all the spring/early summer have to be really troubling to Pens fans. To see what seemed to be the model franchise along with Chicago, Boston and LA to become a laughing stock in the league almost over night. There certainly still is enough talent to keep the team competing/in the playoff hunt, but we will go out on a limb here and say the team's days of competing for/being mentioned as a Cup favourited team are history. An implosion indeed!