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Uneasiness persists around Penguins as players clear out lockers

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 5:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang speaks to the media in the locker room Thursday, May 15, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

Weird. Uncomfortable. Sad.

Those were just some of the words members of the Penguins organization — not only players but also other employees — used Thursday to describe the feeling inside Consol Energy Center.

“People don't really understand the pressure we have here,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “Because we have the two best players, we have to win every year. You can't. We didn't.

“That doesn't make us a bad team, but I think that's what people say now. They say we need a lot of changes. So now I guess we'll see just like everybody else.”

Meetings continued Thursday as ownership plotted its reaction to fallout from another Stanley Cup playoffs disappointment.

Officially, Dan Bylsma remained the coach. He was at Consol Energy Center, but he was not spotted by players around the hockey operations offices in the morning.

He did not address the media as he had at the end of the previous five locker-clearing days and left the arena about 5 p.m.

General manager Ray Shero also was present Thursday, as were senior members of the hockey operations staff such as Tom Fitzgerald and Jason Botterill. Assistant coaches Tony Granato, Todd Reirden, Jacques Martin and Mike Bales also were at the arena.

Only select Penguins players were made available for comment.

Bylsma's absence around the offices was noticeable because ownership favors firing him, multiple sources told the Tribune-Review. Five successive postseason losses to lower-seeded opponents have convinced ownership that Bylsma no longer is the right coach, the sources said.

Those postseason losses, in addition to perceived poor drafts and the team's lacking accountability and overall toughness, had Shero's status in jeopardy, the sources said.

Like Bylsma, Shero has two years remaining on his contract. He also has a clause that guarantees him final say over all hockey decisions.

CEO David Morehouse and majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle will determine Shero's future. They have staged multiple meetings, either in person or by phone, to discuss the direction of the franchise, the sources said.

Although there is no timetable for decisions, ownership would like to reach theirs soon because of the need to plan for June's NHL Entry Draft and free agency, which begins July 1, the sources said.

The amateur scouting staff began meeting with hockey operations last week as part of draft preparations. Professional scouting meetings, which set the free agency agenda, are scheduled for late May.

If Shero is dismissed, ownership would seek to retain some members of the hockey operations staff so as not to disrupt work that had been done with the draft in mind, the sources said.

Either Shero or a new general manager likely will need a new coach, and the Penguins crave specific attributes, the sources said.

The coach will need to have a philosophy that emphasizes toughness and defense but not so much that it stifles the creativity of franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the sources said.

However, the coach will need to carry enough clout to effectively challenge Crosby and Malkin, who grew disenchanted with Bylsma's methods during this past season, the sources said.

Crosby on Thursday tepidly denied a falling out with Bylsma. Malkin did not address the media.

Crosby, the Penguins captain, and Malkin are viewed by ownership as the franchise's cornerstones, but neither will have a say in the selection of a coach, the sources said.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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