Penguins' Bylsma has rare distinction

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Ken Dryden led Montreal to the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1971, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.

One year later, he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Earning those honors is that order is a feat that never has been matched, but, finally, there is a guy who might have an idea of how Dryden felt.

Dan Bylsma.

After all, he coached the Penguins to a Cup three months ago, but will be running an NHL training camp for the first time when the Penguins begin preseason workouts tomorrow at Mellon Arena.

While that's not the way most coaching careers unfold, Bylsma does not mind the novelty. Especially the part about punctuating his first partial season behind the bench with a Stanley Cup parade.

"People have tried to tell me that [winning the Cup] was a bad thing because expectations are high," he said. "No. I don't think anybody would forgo winning, [to avoid] having to deal with expectations."

Perhaps, he doesn't mind people have high expectations for him because that is what he has for his players. They embraced Bylsma, on both personal and professional levels, when he replaced Michel Therrien in mid-Feburary, and his arrival triggered a surge that carried the Penguins through the playoffs.

While Bylsma's message and methods will not have that new-coach smell this time around.

"The players, after 50 games or so, have a pretty good [sense] of what I'm going to be like at the start of this year," he said.

He will be counting on them to respond the way they did when he showed up last winter.

"I'd like to set the standard high, in terms of execution and habits, and see the standard for us approaching this as another day in our lives, when we try to get better," he said. "We still think we can get better as a team."

How realistic that is remains to be seen, but the Penguins did not absorb many major personnel setbacks during the offseason. Their shutdown defense pairing of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill is gone, as are forwards like Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan, but management believes free-agent acquisitions such as Jay McKee and Michael Rupp, along with homegrown prospects like Alex Goligoski, Ben Lovejoy and Luca Caputi, among others, can fill those voids.

While much of the lineup is set -- barring injury, it is safe to assume that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will center the top two lines and Marc-Andre Fleury will be the No. 1 goalie when the regular season begins Oct. 2 -- at least a few roster spots and roles will be up for grabs over the next few weeks.

"There are a couple of slots, for sure," Bylsma said. "Probably as many as three to five that there may be some competition for.

"There are a number of players in our organization who have the ability to move up, based on their [performance during} training camp. Caputi, [Eric] Tangradi, [Dustin] Jeffrey [and] Nick Johnson all have the ability to move up in the organization. They'll be given that opportunity."

Fact is, those guys might be among the ones who get more chances to show what they can do than some others in this camp. Unlike a lot of coaches, Bylsma does not have a hard-and-fast rule that all players must be handled the same.

"A lot of people will be treated differently, based on who they are," he said. "Sidney Crosby has been at Team Canada for hard practices and some games, so he's in a different position than Pascal Dupuis, who was not.

"The one concern is, getting the necessary work in and not overdoing it.," Bylsma said. "I don't want to be tired going into Oct. 2."




NOTES -- The Penguins will have physical testing this morning. Practice sessions tomorrow at Mellon Arena, which are open to the public, will begin at 9 a.m. and run until about 12:30 p.m. ... The Penguins' HD radio channel, which will carry a mix of team and league content, will debut Oct. 1.


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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