There’s no question that Dan Bylsma was a major reason the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year.
Many say he was THE reason.
We all have to wonder if the magic he created to turn a 10th-place team in to the best in the world will continue in 2009-10.
Will the chemistry continue to grow? Will he be able to acclimate more free agent acquisitions in to the lineup? Can HCDB get a team that has now done it all to do it all over again?
Recent history can give us an idea of the likelihood for the Penguins to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
Midseason coaching changes seem to be all the rage nowadays in the NHL, especially for the Penguins. Both Michel Therrien and Bylsma were brought to the team as a replacement while the team was still competing.
Others have done the same thing with mixed results.
1999-00 New Jersey Devils
The most successful misdeason coaching change before Bylsma in 2008-09 happened in New Jersey during the 1999-00 season.
The Devils led the Eastern Conference for much of that year, but suffered through a 5-10-2 slump under head coach Robbie Ftorek. With eight games remaining — much less than when Bylsma was brought in — Devils GM Lou Lamoriello replaced Ftorek with Larry Robinson.
What resulted was a 4-4 finish to the regular season and No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they came back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to No. 1 seed Philadelphia to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
There, they beat Dallas to win the Cup.
The next season, Jersey finished with 111 points thanks to a 48-19-12-3 record. They were the No. 1 seed in the East and advanced to a second straight Finals appearance.
There the Devils lost to Colorado in seven games.
That 1999-00 season was the first of what ended up being three Finals appearances in four years, with another Cup win in 2002-03. It was a string that made the Devils a legitimate dynasty — they won three Cups in a span of nine seasons and were on game away from making it four.
2002-03 Boston Bruins
Ftorek also got fired and replaced in Boston during the 2002-03 season with a record of 33-28-8-4 — nine games remained in the regular season. The Bruins snuck in as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference under GM Mike O’Connell, getting booted by New Jersey in five games.
The Bruins finished the regular season 3-3-3-0 that year.
The next year, Mike O’Connell was replaced as head coach. Thus, their dramatic improvement to 41-19-15-7 the following year doesn’t apply in the case of the Penguins and Bylsma.
1988-89 New York Rangers
Michel Bergeron was fired with two games, yes TWO GAMES!, left in the regular season by GM Phil Esposito. Esposito consequently replaced Bergeron behind the bench.
The Rangers lost both of their final regular season games and were swept by the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
The next season, Roger Neilson was named New York’s head coach and the Rangers won the Patrick Division with 85 points.
They lost in the Patrick Division Finals.
What does this mean?
Well, first off it means that coaches rarely do what Bylsma was able to do last year.
It seems that those midseason changes are made out of desperation and the team struggles to rebound. However, the team rebounds the next season for a much better record.
It’s clear that the Penguins chose to insert Bylsma at the right time and not a few games before the season started.
Thus, Bylsma had enough time to implement his system and find success — albeit astoundingly fast.
I think it’s clear that the Penguins have a unique situation. They defied all odds by getting back to the playoffs after losing in the Finals, even overcoming a 10th-place spot with the season winding down.
Then, the Pens made it back to the Finals after losing the year before, which hadn’t happened since Wayne Gretzky’s first Cup in Edmonton in 1984.
Then, they overcame a 2-0 deficit and won on the road against the same team that crushed their dreams the previous season.
I wouldn’t put anything past this group of Penguins, even if they look a little bit different than last year.
With Dan Bylsma at the helm, you can bet the Pens will be right in the thick of things come springtime. I mean, what are we all going to do in the months of April, May and in to June if there isn’t playoff hockey?
Hopefully we won’t have to worry about that.
Chris | PPT
Thanks to Bleacher Report for some of the information in this post.