The Penguins and Leafs are both having a tough season.
For the Leafs, this is nothing new.
For the Penguins, it’s very new territory.
What’s so interesting is they kind of have inverse problems.
Toronto is weak down the middle, with strong wingers but no dominant center.
The Penguins are strong down the middle, but once again lack quality wings for Sidney Crosby.
The big difference is the Penguins have had incredible success with strength down the middle. In fact, a lot of strong NHL teams, like the Bruins and Flyers, have built their team around their centers.
No team has had extended success without at least one above-average center. I’m not quite sure what Brian Burke’s strategy is, seemingly avoiding the acquisition of quality centers.
While I can understand why everyone is calling for Burke’s head, I’m shocked people are starting to close in on Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma. The guy is two years removed from a Stanley Cup. He’s been without his best defensive center for the entire season.
You could argue he’s mishandled the sensitive goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s lost his starting job and might have been completely stripped of his already-shaky confidence.
But even if he did mess up the Fleury situation, and I’m not sure he has, he’s at least earned the right to not have people calling for his job until after the All Star break.
The struggles of the Penguins and the Leafs simply illustrate how important it is for GMs and coaches to be on the same page.
Burke has built a line-up that I suspect doesn’t make any sense to coach Ron Wilson. Burke’s brought in a lot of big bodies, but not enough speed for the kind of system Wilson wants to run. Burke seems to have met Wilson half way, getting him the wings he wants, but not giving him enough talent for a complete line.
Bylsma can’t complain about his roster, but it’s tough having so much money tied up in so few players. After everyone is paid, there isn’t enough left for great wings. So every season, Bylsma needs to figure out how to make an average player look extraordinary. But I wonder how much GM Ray Shero consults Bylsma about roster moves. And I wonder if Bylsma has thoughts on the kind of wings that might work best with his system.
But Bylsma’s earned a little patience as he continues to try to figure it out.
As for Burke? He might want to investigate what better centers might do for his team.
Also, speaking of the Leafs, here’s a shockingly complete tribute to Doug Gilmour’s Leafs career:
Am I the only one that will always remember him a Blackhawk?