Penguins players say Bylsma should be retained
Says one player of Dan Bylsma: "Guys are more upbeat, having a lot more fun. ... I don't know if it was just [Bylsma], or if it was addition by subtraction. But, for whatever reason, the attitude is different, and that's translated to a lot more success."
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There is, Penguins general manager Ray Shero reiterated yesterday, no reason to rush to judgment on interim coach Dan Bylsma's future.
That the issue of retaining -- or replacing -- Bylsma is best dealt with after the season, when there will be time to assess fully what he has done and what he is capable of contributing in the years ahead.
"That's something we're going to talk about at the end of the year," Shero said. "That was [going to be the case regardless of] whether we were doing great or not. If we were 3-15, I wouldn't say, 'Yeah, he's definitely not going to get the job.' "
That's all perfectly logical and very much in keeping with Shero's measured and patient management style.
But it doesn't necessarily reflect the thinking of the guys who enter the game tonight against New Jersey with a 14-2-3 record since Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien Feb. 15.
"We were a pretty fragile group when he got here," one player said. "I would have to say he's exceeded all expectations."
Indeed, a survey of Penguins players this week suggests that if it were their call, the only questions about Bylsma's future here would concern how long his contract should run and how much he would be paid.
Each player interviewed was granted anonymity, with the goal of having him assess Bylsma with complete candor by eliminating any danger of retaliation by a coach he publicly criticized. Turns out that, as precautions go, having the players speak without being identified was tantamount to giving a raincoat to a fish.
Not even remotely necessary.
"He's done everything he had to do to be kept," Player 3 said. "He couldn't do more."
While Therrien's most significant accomplishment -- one that laid the foundation for a trip to the Stanley Cup final last spring -- was changing the culture of the franchise, introducing structure and discipline and defensive responsibility, Bylsma's has been the way he has altered the atmosphere around the team.
He has the Penguins playing a more up-tempo style and has done some tactical tweaking, but the most striking -- and, players say, significant -- difference since Bylsma took over is the renewed enthusiasm players have for their jobs.
"There's just a different attitude in the room," Player 5 said. "It had gotten to the point where guys were kind of dragging themselves into practice, dragging themselves to the rink.
"Guys are more upbeat, having a lot more fun. ... I don't know if it was just [Bylsma], or if it was addition by subtraction. But, for whatever reason, the attitude is different, and that's translated to a lot more success."
So much of it, actually, that if there is one meaningful question about Bylsma, it concerns how he will deal with adversity. That's impossible to say at this point, because the Penguins haven't experienced much during his tenure, never going more than one game without a point.
"Since he's been here, things have gone well, so maybe he'll have to deal with a time when things aren't going so well," Player 1 said. "But, from his personality and getting to know him a little bit, I don't see that necessarily being a big problem."
Bylsma is, by nature, more upbeat and outgoing than Therrien. One player recalled being struck by the symbolism and substance of seeing the door to the head coach's office propped open when he reported to Mellon Arena for the first practice of the Bylsma era.
"The atmosphere has been great," Shero said. "Winning has something to do with that, but I think there's a lot of positive energy. Guys are excited."
That doesn't mean they are immune to criticism. Bylsma isn't as in-your-face and caustic with players as Therrien could be, but, when he sees something he doesn't like, he makes it known.
"He's a teaching coach," Player 2 said. "If something goes wrong, he's going to teach a guy the right away, as opposed to just kicking and screaming and yelling at him and not have a guy know what's going on."
Player 4 said that "everybody trusts [Bylsma] and buys into his system," and that's reflected in their record. It also explains why, without hesitation, the players surveyed endorsed stripping the "interim" from Bylsma's title.
"Obviously, that's a decision only Ray can make," Player 2 said. "But from a player's [perspective], there's no question in my mind he has the ability to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins."
First Published April 1, 2009 12:00 am