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Pens' Bylsma Has Proven to Be Elite Coach

Friday, 12.02.2011 / 1:28 PM / Features
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Pens\' Bylsma Has Proven to Be Elite Coach
Dan Bylsma knows coaches come and go in the NHL, but the Pens feel lucky to have him behind their bench.
WASHINGTON -- The news of three coaches getting pink slips this week gave Dan Bylsma reason to pause, reflect and contemplate his own future in the high-stakes, zero-security coaching business.
 
"It's tough to know what to think," Bylsma told NHL.com prior to coaching his Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 win against the Capitals at Verizon Center. "It doesn't make you feel good, I know that. It doesn't make you feel comfortable, and it does say a lot about the pressure in this League to win hockey games."
 
Bylsma has never been fired from an NHL head coaching job, so he can't talk about what it must have felt like to be either Bruce Boudreau or Paul Maurice on Monday. He would have no clue how empty Randy Carlyle must have felt Wednesday night after leading his struggling team to a win only to learn he was getting the ax less than an hour after the final buzzer.
 
Then again, Bylsma is one coach that as of today and certainly for the foreseeable future does not have to concern himself with the gut-wrenching feeling one in his fraternity must have when he stops getting results and, ultimately, stops getting the opportunity to try to make things right.
 
As the Capitals, Hurricanes and Ducks attempt to start over, the Penguins remain Bylsma's team, and his voice resonates loud and clear throughout the organization.
 
The players will be the first to say they represent his optimistic and upbeat personality, both on and off the ice. The environment he began to create the day GM Ray Shero summoned him from the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, Feb. 15, 2009, has bred nothing but success even in the face of a glaring spotlight and notorious injuries to superstar players.
 
The Penguins won a Stanley Cup in Bylsma's first season, and last season he earned the Jack Adams Award for leading them to 106 points and the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference despite not having Jordan Staal for the first 40 games, Sidney Crosby for the last 41 games and Evgeni Malkin for the final 29 games.
 
Bylsma disputed that he did his best work when faced with his biggest challenge last season, saying it would have been harder if he had to start the season without Crosby and Malkin instead of finish it. But the job he did still earned Bylsma rave reviews from around the sports world and further convinced Shero that his decision to go with the untested rookie head coach was spot on.
 
He has won 129 of the 214 regular-season games he's coached for the Penguins.
 
WATCH: Dan Bylsma speaks with the media following the Pens 2-1 victory over the Caps on December 1.
"It's hard to hire the right coach that's a really good fit. Honestly, we got somewhat lucky with Dan," Shero told NHL.com. "Obviously he was right in our organization, right under our nose, but the timing worked out for us and he was an instant fit. But there are lots of managers that pick who they believe is the right coach with a lot of due diligence and it's not a good fit for some reason. We happened to get real lucky with Dan."
 
The luck factor can't be ignored because, as Shero insinuated, hiring a coach is in no way an exact science. However, the big players in Pittsburgh -- Bylsma, Shero and Crosby -- all say experience, attitude, style and substance have allowed Bylsma to remain the perfect fit for the Penguins.
 
In talking for the players, Crosby said Bylsma's up-tempo system that promotes a skill game is, for lack of a better word, just fun to play in.
 
"It's a combination of the way he treats guys and the way we play," Crosby added. "At the end of the day it's pretty easy -- it's just respect. You respect your coach, the decisions he makes, you work hard for him, and in return he respects us and communicates well. That's what works for us."
 
Speaking from a manager's perspective, Shero said Bylsma's previous playing history was a big reason why they turned to him when Michel Therrien's voice was no longer being heard inside the dressing room.
 
"Even though he had only been a head coach for 55 games in the American League, he had played 400 as a player," Shero said. "This was not a guy that was foreign to the National Hockey League and was going to be out of his element. He was in his element."
 
Bylsma agreed with Shero because even though he's seven years removed from his playing career, he is still using the experience he gained through his 840 professional games played, including 429 in the NHL spread between Los Angeles and Anaheim, to help him behind the bench.
 
"Especially in my last seven or eight years, as I knew I wanted to be a coach, I said over and over again, 'This is what I would do,' or 'This is what I wouldn't do,' " Bylsma said. "You could see that this coach did this really well, and that's great, but sometimes I was like, 'Why would you ever treat anybody that way?'
 
"Some of my education as a coach is firsthand, and it doesn't matter how old I get, I'm going to have that. Maybe the personalities will completely change in the next 15 years, but I am still doing things because of what I saw, learned and believed 15 years ago."
 
Bylsma's playing experience also gave him the chance to be around some of the great stars of the game. He was in training camps with Wayne Gretzky and played with Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne and Adam Oates. As a result, he has never once felt timid around Crosby and Malkin, stars whose ice time he now controls.
 
"He played with star players, so when he came up here it wasn't like he was scared to be around these guys or afraid to say the wrong things," Shero said. "He had been around guys like this as a player. He had been in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. So, you rely on that experience as well."
 
"That's huge," Crosby added. "That's really important that he understands the attitudes of guys. I mean, he played with Kuni (Chris Kunitz)."
 
Bylsma, who did play with Kunitz in 2003-04, has never relied on his playing experience to gain respect inside the Penguins' room.
 
"I think respect is earned -- it's not given," Bylsma said. "I could have been in their shoes, and they still may think I'm crazy, a lunatic, or way off base.
 
"The fact that I did play does stand for something, it is part of my resume, but I don't think you totally gain respect, or have respect for individuals because of that. Respect is earned."
 
And Bylsma has it in spades, but so did the three coaches that got fired this week. It wasn't enough for them to keep their jobs.
 
Bylsma is not naïve enough to think the same won't happen to him one day.
 
"Bruce Boudreau within the last few weeks becomes the fastest to 200 wins in the NHL, and before he gets to his 202nd win he gets let go," Bylsma said. "It is pause for the longevity of coaching in this League."
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer

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