Ex-Penguins defenseman Niskanen still miffed by coaches' firings

| Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen remains miffed at how the Penguins handled last offseason's coaching changes, and he made no secret of it.

“The organization can say whatever it wants, that it wasn't sure what it wanted to do, all that stuff,” he said. “But it was (bull).

“It's not like Dan (Bylsma) was a chump or something, but that's how he was treated. He won you guys a Cup, you know?”

Niskanen left the Penguins via free agency last summer and gets his first up-close look at his old team Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

Niskanen took offense at how the Penguins treated Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden.

The Penguins fired general manager Ray Shero on May 16. Many expected them to fire Bylsma and his staff at the same time.

Instead, the Penguins retained Bylsma, Granato and Reirden until June 6. On that day, the Penguins hired Jim Rutherford to replace Shero.

Rutherford announced the firings of the coaches that afternoon. Bylsma remains out of work, though the Penguins are paying him about $4 million over the next two years, while Granato (Detroit) and Reirden (Washington) landed assistant coaching positions.

Niskanen said numerous Penguins players were angry by the way the coaches were treated. The coaches, Niskanen said, should have been retained or fired immediately so that they could have pursued work rather than be in a holding pattern.

Niskanen was joined by Reirden and former Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik in Washington. Orpik and Niskanen signed long-term contracts.

“The Penguins always treated me and my family in a first-class way,” Reirden said. “That said, it was a difficult time this summer with all the uncertainty. You put a lot of time and effort into helping players improve and, ultimately, trying to help the organization win another Stanley Cup. Unfortunately we weren't able to do that. Hard feelings? No. I'm just thankful for the opportunity but at the same time disappointed in the decision they made.”

Orpik, among the most outspoken Penguins during his time in Pittsburgh, chose his words carefully.

“I definitely have an opinion on it,” Orpik said. “But I don't think it does any good to share that right now. At the end of the day, it's people running a business. That's what you always hear. It's a cut-throat business. I don't think anything surprises me anymore.”

Niskanen and Orpik insisted they have no hard feelings and that, on personal levels, were treated well.

“I was always treated really well when I was there,” Niskanen said. “But, you know, I have a real problem with how those guys were treated. A lot of guys on the team were very upset by how everything happened.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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