Bylsma, assistant coaches gets contract extensions from Penguins
The Penguins' new foundation is nearly set.
Coach Dan Bylsma, Evgeni Malkin and fellow star center and captain Sidney Crosby, and general manager Ray Shero will be the nucleus going forward — all under contract, each paid comparably with the best of their peers, every one of those men looking for that one item that will cement his legacy: The Stanley Cup, which has eluded the Penguins since Bylsma took reins of the sled and steered it to a title four years ago.
Shero believes Bylsma is the man to return the Cup to Pittsburgh. That is why he pushed majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to extend the contracts of Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden, even though that trio has overseen three consecutive disappointing postseasons.
“I look back on the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it's not been too kind to coaches — not that it's good or bad, just the way it is,” Shero said Wednesday, referring to Bylsma being the only coach to last four consecutive years on the job.
“It doesn't reflect my way of what the vision is for the team and how it's coached and run. … It's important to me, making a statement that I believe in Dan Bylsma, I believe in our coaching staff.”
The Penguins once believed in a foundation built upon four players: Crosby, Malkin, center Jordan Staal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The number remains, but the dynamic has changed.
Crosby is season set to enter the first of a 12-year contract worth $104.4 million, all guaranteed without insurance from concussion, and he is the only untouchable employee in the eyes of ownership.
Crosby is indispensable because his appeal as face of the franchise has led to a record home sellout streak and a regional television deal that essentially paid for his new contract.
Still, going without a point in the Eastern Conference final dimmed his glow.
Crosby and Malkin have combined to win two MVPs and three scoring titles, and they remain the only Penguins viewed as franchise players by ownership. Shero is negotiating a new contract for Malkin, one that likely will pay him no less than $10 million annually on an eight-year extension.
The Penguins gladly will trade about 29 percent of their cap space — Crosby and Malkin would account for no more than that starting in 2014-15 — for MVP-like production.
They also would take improved maturity from Crosby and Malkin during pivotal playoff situations. That would mean an elimination of in-series scoring droughts (Boston, 2013), swing-game meltdowns (Philadelphia, Game 3, 2012) and Game 7 penalties and power-play problems (Montreal, 2011).
More than ever, Crosby and Malkin will need to be The Men for the Penguins, not just The Best Players in the World.
The challenge for Bylsma is to win more when it matters. Players have said his system could be simplified but that it needs no overhaul.
He has never lost the room, but Bylsma also must keep the support of Crosby and Malkin, each of whom strongly endorsed him to Shero in season-ending meetings.
No coach of the Penguins — no matter if he earns around $2 million annually or ultimately ends up leading Team USA at the Olympics — will have full clout over Crosby and Malkin.
Bylsma, with this extension, can stand as a commanding figure. It will not hurt that he has a strong bond with Shero, who is one of the NHL's higher-paid general managers at about $4 million.
Shero and Bylsma are now the MegaPowers in the hockey operations department, just as Crosby and Malkin are on the ice.
Shero and Bylsma each have contracts that run through the 2015-16 season. They are tied to one another.
Crosby and Malkin will be tied together, too.
Each will have a full no-trade clause throughout his next contract.
Malkin can sign for only eight seasons per terms of the new labor contract between the NHL and Players' Association. That would link him to the Penguins through the 2021-22 season, which will represent the last of nine front-loaded years on Crosby's 12-year deal.
The mission statement, Shero said Wednesday, is to contend for the Cup each year.
Three years ago, Lemieux and Burkle rewarded Shero for his stewardship of their franchise into the realm of the elite. Within about a year, they will have paid handsomely to keep Crosby, Bylsma and Malkin.
Lemieux and Burkle are banking on four men, all of whom have something to prove again and need one another to prove it.