Stanley Cup playoffs: Penguins' Bylsma wired for success
Less than 15 months into his NHL coaching career, the Penguins' Dan Bylsma is 5-0 in playoff series, including a Stanley Cup title last year and a first-round win against Ottawa this year.
Some of the secrets to his success entering the second round later this week are a bit contradictory, depending on who you ask.
The players see a man who hasn't changed, one who is reliably upbeat and uses the same management style he brought with him when he got promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Feb. 15, 2009.
"I think he's the same coach we all met last year in February," team captain Sidney Crosby said.
Maybe so, but Bylsma insisted Monday that he goes out of his way to keep his thoughts fresh and his strategy flexible.
"I try not to get in a rut about what I've done in the past or experiences I've had in the past," he said.
And that's from a man who has kept meticulous track of practices and situations, starting a new notebook every year dating to the waning seasons of his playing days in the NHL.
They are a good reference, but they are only that because coaches who have been his mentors convinced him not to be rigid.
"One of the things I learned in being an assistant coach and watching some of the good coaches I've coached with is try to treat each situation [as] new and not go to the notebook and say, 'This is what I did in this situation last time so I'm going to do the same thing over again,' " Bylsma said. "Not every situation is the same. Not every team is the same."
One constant, though, is Bylsma's energy level.
The guy could bounce off of a Velcro wall. On his more sedate days.
"I don't think it's gone down," center Jordan Staal said. "Every morning it seems like he's got about 10 cups of coffee in him. He's an exciting guy to meet in the morning.
"I'm usually not a morning guy, but with him, every day seems like a new day and there's something new to learn. He takes ownership to do that and get everyone else on the same page and be excited about learning and getting better. It's exciting to drive to the rink and know that's what you're coming to."
As with the players, Bylsma still washes through the emotion of game days, particularly when there is a lot at stake, as there was Saturday in Ottawa. The Penguins failed to close out their series two nights earlier in Game 5, losing, 4-3, in triple overtime at home, and so had to go on the road to try again.
"I think you get a little more comfortable going into series, but when you're in the middle of one ... it certainly didn't feel any more comfortable going into that Game 6 after that Game 5 loss here at home and going to Ottawa," Bylsma said. "It's new feelings, a new pit in your stomach, having to deal with different situations."
One recurring feeling for Bylsma is that of clinching a playoff series, as the Penguins did Saturday when winger Pascal Dupuis scored in overtime to void a winner-take-all Game 7.
Whatever credit anyone wants to heap on Bylsma, it shouldn't be based on painting him as a traditional inspirational leader who comes up with the perfect pregame pep talk or the effective kick in the pants.
At least that's the opinion of winger Bill Guerin, who at 39 is the same age as Bylsma and has played for a long list of NHL coaches.
"I don't think there's such a thing as a motivator anymore," Guerin said. "You can't be a motivator in this game anymore. There's too many technical aspects of the game. I am a firm believer in that. If you're a motivator, that's a thing of the past.
"Dan motivates in a different way. I think he really tries to get to know each and every player's personality and what makes them tick. But I think he feels he can get to guys without threats, without embarrassing anybody."
Bylsma has written books with his father, Jay, aimed at children, aspiring athletes and their families, so it's hardly surprising that he keeps those notebooks and approaches coaching from a teaching perspective.
"He's real energetic, real outgoing, easy to talk to, and he's got a drive to win," Staal said. "He doesn't shove the system down your throat, but he puts it out there.
"He's a great coach."
One who, apparently, is the same coach he was upon arrival in the NHL yet embraces the ability to adapt as needed.
"It's a winning recipe," Dupuis said. "Why change it?"