With the NHL head coaching vacancies continuing to fill up as the days go by, one of the best remaining candidates is former Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma.
Bylsma, 44, spent the better part of six seasons with the Penguins before being fired at the end of the 2013-14 season. He led his team to the Stanley Cup playoffs in every year, and won the Stanley Cup during his first season behind the bench.
After spending 12 years bouncing between the NHL and AHL as a left wing, he rose to NHL head coach prominence in 2008 after just 54 games as a head coach with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He took over for the fired Michel Therrien in Pittsburgh, leading the team to an 18-3-4 record to close out the season and make the playoffs before the aforementioned Stanley Cup victory.
Bylsma then went 252-117-32 throughout his career — winning the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year in 2011 — with his teams never finishing lower than 4th in the Eastern Conference standings. His 252 victories is a franchise record for Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t enough to save his job after a second-round loss to the Rangers last year.
Now, after a year away, it seems apparent that Bylsma is ready to get behind the bench as a head coach. He’s stayed close to the game during his time away in the form of providing commentary on the NHL Network for various games as well helping coach Team USA at the recent IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic.
He’s also mentioned in past interviews that he is studying how analytics work to be prepared for future work as the league heads towards a more analytical digestion of the game.
With the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils as the final two teams still looking for a coach for the upcoming season, Bylsma’s name has been floated around for both openings for some pretty obvious reasons.
His former General Manager in Pittsburgh, Ray Shero, is now the man in charge in New Jersey. The relationship between the two could be strong enough to lure him to the Devils. However, New Jersey seems to be getting ready to enter rebuild mode, which could push Bylsma away should he not want to partake in something of that nature. This leads to the other option, the Sabres.
Buffalo has already completed the tear down of the on-ice product, and is now starting the building process of the bringing the roster back to playoff form. With the plethora of young talents in the system and Jack Eichel expected to join the fold in June, the idea of having such a promising young roster could be what Bylsma really wants in a job.
He has a relationship with Sabres GM Tim Murray as Murray was the Director of Player Personnel with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim during Bylsma’s time as a player there. He also coached Eichel during the World Championships.
Bylsma has won as many Stanley Cups as Toronto’s new head coach Mike Babcock, but doesn’t have the pizzazz that the latter has regarding his resume. It may be due to his lack of success on an International level, or the fact that he made it to just one Stanley Cup Finals in his coaching career. Nevertheless, he’s proven to be a great coach in his own right, even if his name might not be looked at in same accord as a Babcock. Whether it’s Buffalo, New Jersey or another team down the line, Bylsma will prove why he was viewed as one of the top candidates.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.