Team sticks with Dan Bylsma despite latest pratfall in playoffs
June 13, 2013 4:00 PM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, left, discusses his two-year contract extension at a news conference Wednesday.
General manager Ray Shero, right, added his vote of confidence for Mr. Bylsma. "I believe he's the coach to take us forward. I have faith in his ability."
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Dan Bylsma is a confident man, someone whose proper posture and strong stride dovetail with his coaching persona.
But how could anyone not flinch at least a little when even your teenage son greets you with questions about your job security because, well, who wasn't talking about Mr. Bylsma possibly being fired after the Penguins got swept in four games last week by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final of the Stanley Cup playoffs?
"My son is at the age he listens to the radio and hears that stuff," Mr. Bylsma said Wednesday of his son, Bryan.
The elder Bylsma also got text messages from his brothers asking, perhaps indirectly, about his future with the Penguins.
Mr. Bylsma got to put his family's fears to rest when instead of getting the axe, he got a contract extension of two years that will take him through the 2015-16 season.
There was no small measure of relief for Mr. Bylsma.
"I'm not going to deny the thoughts and the feelings and the scenarios that go through your head. If I said no, I'd be totally lying to you and not truthful," he said Wednesday, the day the extension was announced and five days after the Penguins' season ended in a dust pile of disappointment and frustration.
"Did I go home and have my son ask if I was [still] going to be coach of the Penguins? He did. He's well aware of it, too. So I'm not going to say that that wasn't there or that those emotions or even thinking about it. I did think about it."
An analytical sort, Mr. Bylsma, 42, will use the boomerang effect of going from being unsure to being backed by the club management. He plans to be all the better a coach for it.
"The more you go forward from that, the more my resolve and confidence in my ability and me being the coach of this team is strengthened the past 36, 48 hours," he said.
Mr. Bylsma's assistant coaches, Tony Granato and Todd Reirden, also got extensions. Goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, though, is stepping down to take a special assignments scouting position with the Penguins.
Mr. Bylsma has a stellar record from many vantage points. He took over from the fired Michel Therrien in February 2009, coming up from the club's minor-league affiliate for his first NHL head coaching job and inheriting a club that was in danger of missing the playoffs after reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2008.
Under Mr. Bylsma, the Penguins cruised to an 18-3-4 record over the stretch drive of the regular season and won the Stanley Cup.
Buoyed by a team built around star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Mr. Bylsma has continued to do well in the regular season. He won the 2011 Jack Adams Award as the top coach in the NHL, presumably for guiding the Penguins to 106 points in the regular season despite long-term injuries to Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Then there are the playoffs each spring since the Stanley Cup run.
The Penguins won just one series over the three seasons after winning the cup, bowing out twice in the first round. That record includes a monumental melt-down last year when rival Philadelphia upset them.
This year, the team beat the New York Islanders in six games in the first round, then the Ottawa Senators in five games. Against Boston, though, the Penguins managed just two goals in four games, and the ire of Penguins nation turned its attention toward Mr. Bylsma.
General manager Ray Shero gave consideration to all that he knew about Mr. Bylsma, all that he heard from the coaching staff and from players -- he asked them to be blunt.
His conclusion was definitive.
"I really believe we have a great head coach in Dan Bylsma," Mr. Shero said. "I believe he's the coach to take us forward. I have faith in his ability.
"I have faith in his ability as a coach to get better as he moves forward. I think that's the sign of a great coach. Same thing with his assistant coaches, Tony Granato and Todd Reirden."
And so, instead of firing Mr. Bylsma and looking for a fresh face, perhaps someone who would be more stern with the players, Mr. Shero did the opposite by extending the coach's contract, terms of which were not disclosed.
He could have retained Mr. Bylsma without an extension, but that would have made him a lame duck in 2013-14 with his contract expiring in a year.
Mr. Shero figured he might have to do a sales job Tuesday in meetings with co-owners Mario Lemieux, the Hall of Fame center, and Ron Burkle. He did not.
In fact, Mr. Shero's well-prepared presentation on why Mr. Bylsma remained the best man to coach the Penguins was for naught.
"From Ron and Mario's standpoint, they were 100 percent supportive," Mr. Shero said. "While they were100 percent supportive, I said, 'I appreciate that, but I've done all this work over the last year and four days, which I really want to show you guys.'
"I wanted to make a final recommendation to them, and that was my recommendation. Before I got to that point, they made it clear that they would like to move forward with Dan Bylsma. So, yeah, we are 100 percent on board together."
Public perception held no sway.
"That's outside noise," Mr. Bylsma said. "I really don't listen to it. But I get some of it through those [family] channels. It does certainly have an effect on conversations with your family or with my son. Even my brothers. I texted them, 'I'm OK. I'm doing OK.' It almost intrigues me enough to want to listen just to see what is being said."
Mr. Bylsma didn't need to check to the social media and sports radio vitriol. He knew how it felt to lose, and lose big, a step before reaching the Stanley Cup final.
"The disappointment of not winning is certainly fresh and ripe, and that's a part of the emotion as well," he said. "But you go through that evaluation process that we have in the last few days, and I started out answering my family's texts."