(Photo: Pittsburgh Penguins)
As the #IceBucketChallenge summer rolls along, it reminds us that the Pittsburgh Penguins are about to experience a splash of frigid water to the face.
Even though general manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Mike Johnston have been in place since June, the realities of the new regime probably haven’t taken hold for most of the Penguins yet.
That will change in a few weeks when training camp begins.
For five years, the Penguins had the luxury of a consistent general manager-head coach combination, a true rarity in pro sports. Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma paired up to create a distinct culture surrounding Pittsburgh hockey, and it was (mostly) good, but all of that is gone now.
It’s difficult to anticipate all the ways in which the Penguins will be different under the Rutherford-Johnston ticket. Most of the players and support staff will be in the same position of uncertainty, which could be a negative or a positive.
Some players will fit better than others into the new era of hockey at Consol Energy Center, whether it be because of skill set, personality or some combination of the two. Some players might treasure the opportunity for a fresh start (*cough* Simon Despres *cough*) while others may resent having to prove themselves all over again.
The fun part is that we don’t know, which is also the scary part.
Clearly, ownership has laid down a mandate for change, but there was a certain comforting dependability about Shero-Bylsma teams, even if they made a habit of disappointing in the springtime. Their consistency in the regular season was something to be admired – and not taken for granted.
For all the injuries the Penguins have suffered over the past few years, they never finished lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference. Having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin played a huge part of that, but so did the machine-like efficiency with which the team operated during the 82-game season.
Perhaps that reliability lapsed into rigidity in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even though it earned the Penguins home-ice advantage in nine consecutive postseason series. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t expect the Johnston-led Pens to find their stride right away.
That isn’t to say the Pens will be in 10th place in the Eastern Conference on Thanksgiving. Rather, 2014-15 will be a feeling out process, with the goal of honing the team in time for the playoffs. They could go on to win the President’s Trophy, but this won’t be a finished product by the 10th game of the season, or maybe even the 70th.
If they struggle, that will be the price for shaking things up to this degree. By rebooting the management structure, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle essentially dumped a bucket of icy water on the franchise.
Let’s see how long it takes for the shock to wear off.