Dan Bylsma Sparking Red Wings Offense

Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Dan Bylsma has brought early returns as the new offensive coach, supporting the growth of young players and helping lead the team into the future.

The hiring came after Bylsma was an assistant to Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill with Team USA at the 2018 World Championships. Under the direction of Blashill, Bylsma led the offense to a tournament-leading 46 goals en route to a bronze medal.

Bylsma replaced John Torchetti—who had spent the previous two seasons under Blashill—as the offense and power play coach. Bylsma, 48, is among the most decorated assistant coaches in the league with a Stanley Cup (2009), Jack Adams Trophy (2011), and a 320-190-55 NHL record to his name.

After a dreadful start to the season, the Red Wings have won seven of their past eight games as the offense is beginning to find some consistency to go with an encouraging power play. All of that falls in the hands of Bylsma, whose experience is already bringing new life to the team.

Bylsma’s Background

Bylsma became a household name when he took over the Pittsburgh Penguins late in the 2008-09 season; he led the struggling team to a Stanley Cup title, over none other than Detroit.

The Penguins went 18-3-4 under Bylsma, who proved to have the ability to coach superstar players including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Coaching such players is often overlooked, as many expect them to thrive offensively regardless of systems or coaches. The Mike Johnston era in Pittsburgh is one example that suggests otherwise.

Bylsma went on to lead the Penguins to a top-five record in four of the next five seasons, but early playoff exits piled up and management looked elsewhere in the summer of 2014.

In 2015-16, Bylsma joined the ever-rebuilding Buffalo Sabres, where he would have young, upcoming players including Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, to work with. Bylsma led the team to its two best win and point totals over the past six seasons to date.

Buffalo Sabres Dan Bylsma
Byslma’s results were noticeable in Buffalo, but as management demanded more, he was soon shown the door (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

But he once again found himself unemployed in the summer of 2017 following rumors of a rift within the organization and inability to get the team away from its annual spot as a draft lottery contender.

His hiring in Detroit created buzz as the heir to Blashill, who many believed entered the 2018-19 season on the hot seat after consecutive seasons without making the playoffs. Bylsma’s experience makes him a prime candidate should an interim look enticing to management, but with the team running hot, Blashill’s seat is cold.

New Assistant, New Offense

Bylsma’s offensive systems shined brightly during the preseason, where goals were abundant for Detroit, making way for a surprising 7-1 exhibition record.

The regular season proved to be a different monster, as the Red Wings dropped their first seven games, tallying just 16 total goals. While much of the losing record pointed toward the rookie blue line, teams rarely win games scoring just two goals.

It has been entirely different over the last eight games. Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi are taking the next step in their young careers, rookies Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen are turning heads, and veterans like Gustav Nyquist, for example, look re-energized.

Related: Red Wings’ Bertuzzi Imperfect but Essential

These players are not at the level of Crosby or Malkin, but it still shows Bylsma’s ability to work various skill levels and get the most out of individuals.

Fresh, functional systems have helped the offense average 4.13 goals-for over the last eight games. The Red Wings have tallied at least three goals in each contest and 32 total in that span. For a team that lost 27 games by a single goal last season, a little bit of extra offense makes all the difference.

Enter a resurgent power play. During Mike Babcock’s last season in Detroit, the Red Wings finished second in power play percentage, capitalizing on 23.8 percent of opportunities.

The team has finished 13th, 27th, and 24th in power play percentage in three seasons under Blashill, respectively. This year, the Red Wings currently sit eighth in the league, scoring at a rate of 24.1 percent. A dangerous power play makes a significant difference for a team; it adds to win totals, helps players earn confidence, and builds chemistry.

It has taken just 18 games for the hiring of Bylsma to pan out and his offensive systems have carried the Red Wings to an encouraging level, looking like they could be this year’s Colorado Avalanche of 2017-18.