Bylsma was promoted from the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Feb. 15, 2009, replacing current Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien. He then led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup a few months, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final a year after Detroit beat the Penguins to win.
However, despite a record of 252-117-34 in the regular season, Bylsma could never translate Pittsburgh’s regular season success to the playoffs again, as the Penguins never returned to the final under Bylsma’s watch despite having all-world talents in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front, further complemented by players like James Neal and Chris Kunitz, along with trade deadline rentals like an aging Bill Guerin, Brenden Morrow, and Jarome Iginla.
If you take away the 2009 Stanley Cup run, Bylsma owns a 27-27 playoff record, simply not good enough for a team with the kind of talent the Penguins have had over the last few years.
Whoever Rutherford decides to bring in as Bylsma’s replacement will likely need to bring some sort of culture change with him.
Bylsma initially came to Pittsburgh as part of a miniature coaching wave of teams promoting their own AHL coaches in recent years. It started with Bruce Boudreau in Washington in 2007-08, then Bylsma, followed by Jack Capuano on Long Island, Mike Yeo in Minnesota, Jon Cooper in Tampa Bay, and most recently Craig Berube in Philadelphia.
However, John Hynes (current head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) may not be the guy for the job right now. Despite his track record of developing players (he spent six seasons as the head coach of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program), he’s been described as having a similar style to Bylsma, so while he may be good for another team, he might just breed more of the same play in Pittsburgh.
From there, the Penguins have a lot of questions to answer, as well as potential directions they could go.
- Do they go with a Stanley Cup-winning head coach like, for example, Marc Crawford?
- Do they promote one of their own assistant coaches in Tony Granato, Jacques Martin, or Todd Reirden, with two already having NHL head coaching experience?
- Do they reach into their past and pluck a former Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh in Ulf Samuelsson off the New York Ranger bench?
- Do they go elsewhere in the AHL, like swiping Willie Desjardins from the Calder Cup finalist Texas Stars?
- Do they go way off the board and put feelers out for Mike Keenan, fresh off his Gagarin Cup win, even though he has said he’s not looking at an NHL return right away?
When Shero was fired, I speculated about whether the delay in Bylsma’s seemingly inevitable firing would leave him out in the cold for coaching jobs. While Peter Laviolette and Barry Trotz have found work, Bylsma still has options.
Apart from Pittsburgh, Bylsma’s name could now go into the discussion for the head coaching vacancies.
UPDATE: According to Sun Sentinel reporter Harvey Fialkov, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has already reached out to Bylsma.
The Canucks gig may be the most interesting out there, though there’s potential for Vancouver to go back to Kings assistant coach John Stevens, a thought later confirmed by hockey insider Bob McKenzie on TSN Radio.
Stevens was passed over last year in favour of John Tortorella after the Canucks fired Alain Vigneault, who has since led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final (against Stevens and the Kings) in his first year on Broadway.
Regardless of what happens, it’s bound to be a very interesting offseason for both Bylsma and the Penguins as they look for fresh starts.