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Odd Man Rush: Shero's firing doesn't cool Pens' hot seat

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Updated: 5/16/2014 1:31 pm

Philadelphia, PA ( - The Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms may be a more comfortable seat right now than the one currently unoccupied in Pittsburgh.

Following yet another disappointing playoff exit, the Penguins didn't raise many eyebrows when they fired general manager Ray Shero on Friday, though many insider experts were left with mud on their face when it was announced that -- contrary to reports -- coach Dan Bylsma was being retained for now.

Penguins CEO and president David Morehouse said the search for a new general manager has already begun and the franchise may have to move quickly given the amount of work on the table for whoever fills the role.

And while the chance to run a team that already possess the talents of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang may appear like a no-brainer, candidates should be advised to test the waters before jumping in.

"There is not one answer to getting us to the next level. There is a lot of things that need to be looked at," Morehouse said on Friday.

Obviously, there is the fulfilling of the one thing that ultimately cost Shero his job: expectations.

Pittsburgh has reached the playoffs in eight straight years, making back-to- back Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 2008-09 and winning it all in the latter season that was also Bylsma's first behind the bench.

However, in five trips to the postseason since, the Pens have won just four playoff series despite going over 100 points in the last four non-lockout regular seasons.

While certainly admitting the Penguins have failed to meet their goals, captain Sidney Crosby did mention on Thursday that runs like the one the Chicago Blackhawks are on -- two Stanley Cup titles in four seasons -- are tough to come by.

"It's difficult to win," Crosby noted. "I don't think there's been any lack of effort from anybody; players, coaches, anybody in the organization. I think everyone's done as much as they can. I don't think it's been a lack of trying.

"We'd love to be talking about how we've won multiple Stanley Cups and all that, but it's not as easy at that."

Shero tried a number of different formulas to building around Crosby and Malkin. There were big trades (Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, James Neal) and little trades (this season's Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak deals), depth signings and drafting of talented prospects.

None have worked and enough was finally enough for the front office.

So like waking up after a night of hard partying, the next GM will have to clean up what must now be viewed as a mess.

That starts with the status of Bylsma, who Morehouse said will be evaluated along with the rest of the coaching staff by the new general manager.

Few can argue with Bylsma's regular-season success, mainly because of the 252-117-32 record in five-plus seasons. But things just seem to change come playoff time and 2014 was no different.

Despite running away with the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins struggled in the first round against a Columbus Blue Jackets club making just its second- ever playoff appearance, and ultimately could not hold a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the conference semifinals.

Rumors will surface from now until the situation resolves on Bylsma and his relationship with the players, but Crosby did not add fuel to the fire by saying point blank on Thursday there was no disconnect between himself and Bylsma.

Still, a firing of Bylsma could be a gamble in the short term and Morehouse stated on Friday that he doesn't see the Penguins in need of a complete rebuild.

"This is a team that has had a level of success. What we're trying to do is get from good to great. We're in the top quartile of the league in everything we do. A lot of teams would like to be where we are. However, we do have high expectations and we want to get to it. So we don't need to just come in and clean complete house right away. We think we can do this systematically and we can make adjustments and we can get to where we need to get."

That includes the roster itself, which is top-heavy and needs some serious addressing.

According to, the Penguins as of now have a cap hit of just over $55 million to 14 signed players for the upcoming season. And while the cap itself is expected to raise to around $70 million, the Penguins essentially need to add two whole lines to the club and also expect to lose two big pieces on defense.

Assuming Simon Despres, a 2009 first-round pick, is re-signed as a restricted free agent, the Penguins will have six blueliners under contract, but are likely to lose both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to free agency.

The 33-year-old Orpik has played in 703 games with the Penguins since getting selected by the club in the first round of the 2000 draft, but the Penguins have minimal cap room to maintain his services. That also paves the way out of town for Niskanen, a 27-year-old right-handed shot who will command big bucks on the open market.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has taken his fair share of criticism for his performance in the playoffs but wasn't the obvious goat in this go- around. Still, he has just one year left on his deal and may be easy to move if the Penguins decide to go that route.

Then there are the forwards, a unit that accounted for 30 goals in the 13 playoff games, just one of those from Crosby.

Factor in the production from the blue line and Pittsburgh still only scored 2.7 goals per game in the postseason.

"We're the guys who play," Crosby said on Thursday. "At the end of the day, we definitely feel responsible. We're the guys that go out there and want to perform and want to win. We have that expectation. We definitely feel that way."

Malkin and Crosby, and their respective $9.5 and $8.7 million cap hits, aren't going anywhere and Chris Kunitz ($3.85 million) plays well enough with Crosby to stick around.

Neal, though, has an upcoming cap hit of $5 million and had just four points in the playoffs, while Pascal Dupuis will count $3.75 million against the cap. With only Beau Bennett and Craig Adams additionally under contract next season and both Brandon Sutter and Jayson Megna restricted free agents, the Penguins will need to find some money to bolster the roster.

Pittsburgh does still have both of its compliance buyouts it can use for the upcoming offseason and the next GM will have some tough calls to make.

One could extend to defenseman Letang, who recently returned from a stroke and has a cap hit of $7.25 million. However, he is only 27 years of age.

The Penguins may wear uniforms laced with black and gold, but Shero's successor must remember that unless he has the powers of Rumpelstiltskin, nothing gold can last forever.

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