Bylsma lovers point to his Stanley Cup Run in 2009, his Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year in 2011, consistently strong regular seasons, and Eastern Conference Finals appearance less than 8 months ago: Bylsma detractors, a still relatively small contingent of the fan base, would retort that five years is an eternity in the NHL. Consider former Bench-boss Michel Therrien was fired less than eight months after taking the Pens to within two games of a Stanley Cup Championship, in addition to receiving a two-year contract extension at the time.
Most believe that anything short of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2013-2014 would cost Dan Bylsma his job after this season despite the aforementioned three-year extension – So is Coach Disco on borrowed time? Or can he rally the Penguins to a Stanley Cup Finals Appearance in 2014? Sometimes looking into the past can foreshadow the future… Let’s look at the Book on Coach Bylsma.
Chapter 1 - The Penguins would NEVER have won the 2009 Stanley Cup without Disco Dan Bylsma
This is a fact – Penguin players had grown weary of Therrien’s dictatorial style, the team was languishing in 10th place at the time of his firing, and had lost 8 of 9 games while looking lifeless in the process: Bylsma was the missing piece, and he inherited the perfect storm.
Consider, once the coaching change was made, the 2008-2009 Penguins were on an absolute mission: Fresh off of a stinging Finals loss the previous season to Detroit, the Penguins still had the core players and defensive system in place before adding Bylsma’s player friendly offensive approach in mid-February: The Penguins would acquire Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin via trade later that same month, and snatch Craig Adams off of waivers in early March. The Penguins would go 18-3-4 in the season’s final 25 games before earning the Stanley Cup…Even the staunchest Bylsma detractor would have to acknowledge that the 2009 Stanley Cup is not possible without Coach Disco.
Chapter 2 - Dan Bylsma is the most successful Coach in Penguins History.
“Badger” Bob Johnson; Scotty Bowman; Dan Bylsma – the only three coaches in Penguin history that have brought a Stanley Cup Championship to the Steel City. Unlike “Badger” and Bowman, Dan Bylsma owns 234 wins while Penguins Coach, more than anyone in team history, also surpassing the likes of Eddie Johnston, Michel Therrien, and Red Kelly – Sure, part of this fact can be attributed to Bylsma’s longevity, but 234 wins is nothing to sneeze at, nor is it something a coach just “lucks into”…
Chapter 3 – Dan Bylsma has the highest winning percentage of any NHL coach since 2009
Dan Bylsma’s consistent approach that has led to strong regular seasons would undoubtedly be his biggest strength as a coach. Taking into account all of the injuries that have plagued the Penguins over the last four-plus seasons, Coach Disco has kept the ship steady, no one can deny that: The Penguins have lost Crosby, Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang, amongst others, for significant stretches during the Disco Dan Era. Yet, despite those injuries, the Penguins have recorded at least 100 points in each of Bylsma's four full seasons behind the bench while never finishing lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference (Disclaimer: 72 points during last years Lockout shortened schedule was good for 2nd place in the entire league). As far as consistently winning in the NHL, Coach Disco has proven himself to be one of the best in the NHL since 2009: Only Todd McClelland of San Jose is close as far as winning percentage, and McClelland has never won a Jack Adams Award nor a Stanley Cup. Joel Quenneville, the Chicago Blackhawks skipper, has won two Stanley Cups and is the only coach that can compare to Dan Bylsma over the last half-decade.
Chapter 4 – Bylsma doesn’t challenge his players enough, especially his stars.
I’m not going to pretend like I’ve ever been in Penguins locker room, so let me start with that fact…but I am pretty sure Kris Letang & Evgeni Malkin haven’t been benched or challenged (enough) over the last four years. Every time any of my fellow Penguin fans wants to trash Letang or Malkin, two of the most polarizing current Penguin players, just know that if Dan Bylsma had the testicular fortitude to bench them or bag-skate them, even once, both players would think twice about defensive irresponsibility.
For Letang, it’s not the turnovers that bother me…turnovers happen to everyone, it’s the fact he’s loitering behind the other teams net more than some of the Penguin forwards – benching him for a shift, period, or game could catapult him from his stagnant state: Yes, stagnant… Letang’s the same player he was three years ago - he still isn’t the best option to run the power play after all this time and he’s never been less defensively responsible…Don’t get me wrong, Kris Letang is the Penguins most talented defensemen, but he’s still not as good as he could be.
For Malkin, defense is about effort. I’m not asking “Geno” to win the Selke Trophy, but I also don’t need to see him be the first person out of the zone nearly every Penguins breakout. Make Geno play 200 feet or don’t put him out as the second option at Center when the Penguins are protecting a lead…I would play Crosby, Sutter, and even a washed up Craig Adams over Malkin when protecting a lead (ok, maybe not Adams, but it’s closer than you’d think)…Malkin is an excellent offensive player, but at this point, that’s all he is. While Malkin is great, like Letang, he could still be better.
Another example of Coach Disco not challenging his stars enough is the cautionary tale of James Neal’s discipline, or lack thereof: You’d think on the cusp of Neal’s third suspension earlier this season after his knee on Marchand, the Coach may say something like, “That’s unacceptable,” “There’s no room for that kind of play on this team,” even “James Neal was 100% wrong in his actions and we accept whatever punishment the league decides to hand down.” Or how about going directly to the player and asserting: “James, it pains me to do this, but I got to put you on the bench for an extra game (or two), you can’t put the team in situations like that”…Instead we get this…
http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2013/12/11/bylsma-neal-needs-to-learn-from-marchand-hit/ --- “There needs to be some education there” – take off your skirt, Dan. Like James Neal is some caveman that has no idea it’s wrong to knee someone in the head? I get that Coach Disco doesn’t want to call out his players through the media, but none of the previously mentioned approaches would’ve done that…
First of all, Marc-Andre Fleury is the second most important player on the Penguins behind Crosby, and this year you could make the argument he’s their most important player…and Coach Disco doesn’t chastise Fleury for attempting to initiate a fight with Budaj in a four-goal game that’s already been decided? Now, Bylsma may have privately scolded Fleury, as I said before I’m not in the locker room…but I doubt it.
As mentioned previously, Peter Budaj is Montreal’s backup goaltender, but by all accounts he is a pretty tough guy… Had the fight occurred, Montreal would’ve had to have felt good about the whole scenario; think about it from their perspective: They are losing 5-1, yet Montreal could still sucker the undisciplined Penguins into a position where they could lose Fleury to injury in a game that’s no longer competitive while only risking their backup Goaltender... You think the Penguins are just going to all of a sudden morph into a smart disciplined team once the playoffs start? Me neither.
Go to the 6:16 mark of the video below unless you want to watch the Bylsma press conference after Game 4 against Boston – not that Fred Flintstone and Mike Milbury (a notorious Penguin hater) are always accurate, but neither thought Bylsma would even be brought back this season and both had sound reasoning…
The last point to consider is Coach Disco inherited a team full of disciplined guys that had just served under Sergeant Therrien for three plus seasons, and after initial success in which he didn’t need to enforce the rules, Bylsma may have never fully grasped that at some point he would need to be the organization’s main source of discipline and structure.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Tom, this isn’t the coach’s fault, after all, these players are ultimately responsible for their own actions” – and while I would agree with your assertion, I would counter that if the coaches aren’t correcting their star player’s mistakes year after year, then the same mistakes should be expected from those players. Like it or not, Malkin and Letang have plateaued over the last three seasons, even regressed in some areas, and while it’s not totally Bylsma’s fault, it is ultimately his job to squeeze the most out of every player, especially his stars.
http://triblive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_623309.html#axzz2jiWkXUvx - Bylsma’s Learning Curve
Even during the peak of the Dan Bylsma Era, he still wasn’t keen on making adjustments or matching lines, which is one of the main reasons I do not expect Coach Disco to start adapting his coaching strategy anytime soon. In a seven game series, adjustments and line matchups are necessary because the opposing team is building a game plan tailor made to knock the Penguins off --- it’s not like it’s game 45 in the middle of January, playoffs take much deeper game-planning and it’s something thus far, Coach Disco has seemingly refused to acknowledge.
Bylsma’s consistent, same as it ever was approach that benefits him in the regular season, seems to work against him in the playoffs. Take into consideration, Dan Bylsma has lost three playoff games in a row in three consecutive postseasons - it seems that once a team figures out how to play the Penguins, the Penguins never recover. Let’s look at the three previous post-seasons in a nutshell…
Also, against Tampa, the Penguins were 1 for 35 on the Power Play and career 4th liner Mark Letestu was prominently involved…Letestu played over 3 minutes of Power Play time in every game of the series, including an incomprehensible 5:08 in Game 7… The Penguins didn’t change their personnel nor their power play break-in throughout the course of the series. Tampa essentially lined up three guys along the defensive blue line and dared the Penguins to play “dump and chase” hockey on the power play…Pittsburgh refused to dump the puck, no adjustment was made.
Despite my belief that the 2010-2011 season was Bylsma’s best behind the Penguins bench overall, his series against Tampa wasn’t great. Should the Penguins have won the series? Probably not, Tampa did have more talent, but that’s when coaching matters the most – if you aren’t as skilled as the opposing team, shouldn’t the coach be looking to pull out all of the stops? In such a close matchup, making adjustments, matching lines, and moving players around could’ve made a difference in a tight series that went the full seven games.
For Part II...http://www.cityofchampyinz.com/1/post/2014/02/bookem-dan-o-part-ii.html
or just keep scrolling…(this isn't some fancy website)