In the end what the Penguins accomplished, more or less, was to trade Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma for Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston.
In as clumsy and seemingly as haphazard a manner as possible.
If you’re Shero or Bylsma, you’ve got to be thinking, “How do you like me now?”
It’s a bonus that Tom Fitzgerald has remained with the organization through all of the offseason tumult.
But the Penguins still would have been better off had they somehow at least gotten a player to be named amid this seemingly endless procession of offseason press conferences.
Johnston shouldn’t be dismissed as just a junior hockey guy, having spent eight seasons at the assistant/associate level with Vancouver and Los Angeles prior to taking over the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. The problem is the Canucks and Kings combined to make the playoffs four times and win one postseason series during Johnston’s eight NHL campaigns.
And Rutherford, likewise, shouldn’t be written off simply because he was born in the 1940s. He has a Stanley Cup (2005-06) and a prior appearance in a Final (2001-02) on his general manager’s resume in Carolina. Unfortunately, he was also ultimately responsible for teams that failed to make the playoffs in 15 of his 20 seasons as a GM.
How do the last five Penguins seasons look now?
Ownership demands better and has taken steps this offseason to right a perceived wrong.
It may all have looked like throwing stuff at the wall, but in doing so the Penguins have made a couple of moves that just might stick.
The first was naming Bill Guerin assistant GM in charge of “day-to-day communication with the players,” Rutherford said, on the day Rutherford’s hire was announced.
The second was freshly-minted assistant coach Rick Tocchet sharing the CONSOL podium with Johnston.
The new head coach can talk all he wants about puck possession, puck movement, tempo and pace, just as the new GM can repeatedly harp on adjustments and analytics.
It’s still about the top-end players performing as the top-end players must much more often than the Penguins’ top-end players have.
Consistency of effort, accountability, reliability, an understanding of situations and ramifications, attention to detail and competitive persistence/battle level are all aspects of the operation that haven’t gotten a great deal of airtime this offseason.
But they’re also characteristics of championship-caliber teams that Guerin and Tocchet not-so-coincidentally appear perfectly suited to address as necessary, Guerin from the team-building, team-bonding, team-leading angle and Tocchet in terms of seeing to it that established standards are adhered to along those lines.
If nothing else, management has jacked up the credibility attached to those who will now be doing much of the significant preaching, which should get everyone’s attention again.
That may have been the point all along.
“There are a lot of teams in the league that would like to have our core group,” Johnston maintained.
That’s probably an accurate statement.
But it’s also true that the Pens’ core group has become confused, distracted or otherwise knocked off course, to the degree that it has become dysfunctional when it really matters.
That isn’t going to be fixed by Johnston scribbling on a dry-erase board.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed.
“We’re going to get some motivated players here to get back in the fire and hopefully hold that Cup again,” Tocchet maintained.
If the rearranged staff can somehow pull off the former, the latter has a chance to take care of itself.