When Dan Bylsma took over as Penguins head coach on the evening of February 15, 2009, it was easy to assume the team would remain near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and give a run at a playoff spot. It was well known that many players were not happy playing under Michel Therrien, and Bylsma would step-in on an interim basis and finish out the season. Then the Penguins would begin their search for a new head coach; names like John Tortorella and Pat Quinn were expected to be thrown around. But what happened next was nothing short of a fairy tale.
Over the final 25 games of the regular season, Bylsma led the Penguins to an 18-3-4 record, and climbed all the way up to earn the number four seed in the Eastern Conference. After ousting the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs, Bylsma’s interim tag was removed. We all know what happened after that. Bylsma became only the second rookie head coach to take over a team during the season and win the Stanley Cup.
But this wasn’t supposed to happen. We are supposed to be talking about the Penguins decision to hire (insert name here) as their new head coach. We should be talking about their past and what they have or haven’t done in the playoffs. We should be talking about if the players will click with their new leader. We should be talking about how the new coach will influence free agency and whether players will stay or go.
However Dan Bylsma did not accept this fate. His record of 34-11-4 as Penguins head coach is eerily similar to his record of 35-16-1-2 as head coach the Baby Pens before being named Pens coach in February. His ability to connect with his players and to make the right moves at the right time allows him to be successful.
Some people say head coach of the Penguins is the easiest job in the league. “Put me behind the bench of the two greatest talents in the world and I’ll win a bunch of games too.” This statement has clearly been proven not to be true. Chemistry, decision-making, preparation, and mentality are all driven by the head coach. You have to adapt to the situation and the players that surround you. Dan Bylsma is that man.
Yes, it is too early to judge HCDB as the savior. We all know that former HC Michel Therrien lead the young Penguins to a finals appearance last year and had great promise for the future. But one successful year does not always lead to another. The true test starts now. How will Bylsma put a successful year behind him and get ready for another season? How will he mentally prepare his players for a new season? How will he react when the team has a slump? How will he handle criticism?
We expect HC Bylsma to be around for a while, and hope to see a few championships along the way. But this is the NHL, and things don’t always become what they should be. So you have to wonder……
What will we be saying at this time next year?
Dan | PPT