Penguins sign Bylsma to two-year extension

Wednesday, 06.12.2013 / 5:24 PM
Chris Adamski  - Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero said "a lot hard work was put in by a lot of people" in crafting an official organizational mission statement.

The primary on-ice focus of what they came up with is expressed in the credo, "To have a team we feel can compete for the Stanley Cup each and every year."

To that end, Shero said during a virtual state-of-the-franchise press conference Wednesday that coach Dan Bylsma has allowed the Penguins to have a shot at the Stanley Cup every year.

Shero not only stood by his man, he rewarded him.

Shero announced a two-year contract extension for Bylsma and his staff. Bylsma, who's single tenure is already longer than any coach in franchise history, is signed through the 2015-16 season.

"In my vision moving forward in evaluating our team and our coaching staff and the direction I wanted to go with this franchise, I really believe we have a great head coach in Dan Bylsma," Shero said. "I believe he's the coach to lead us forward. I have faith in his ability and I have faith in his ability to get better as he moves forward. I think that's the sign of a great coach."

Bylsma has a 201-92-25 regular-season record, and in late April became the coach to reach 200 NHL victories the fastest. He guided Pittsburgh to its third Stanley Cup four months after taking over as coach in February 2009. He won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 2011.

Bylsma is second to Eddie Johnston (who had two tenures totaling parts of seven seasons as coach) in regular-season wins with the Penguins and is tops in point percentage. He also has the franchise record for career playoff victories with 36.

But his record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past four years is 20-21, and the Penguins have been eliminated by a lower-seeded team each year. Since claiming the Stanley Cup in 2009, Bylsma has won three playoff series.

Two of those came this year, but the top-seeded Penguins were swept in the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins. Pittsburgh managed two goals in the four games, fueling speculation Bylsma would be fired.

"I kind of go back to I believe in what we have and in what we're doing," Shero said. "It's easy to change -- and I would change if I had to and I've done it before.

"But with the information I have and the questions I have asked and after all that goes into the evaluation process, it makes it easier to extend him."

Bylsma completed the season with one year remaining on his contract. Speaking to the media Wednesday, he appeared much more relaxed than he did in his season-ending press conference Sunday.

Bylsma said his brothers would text him saying they'd heard rumors he would be fired, and said he came home one day to his son, Bryan, asking if he still was going to be coach of the Penguins after Bryan heard speculation on the radio.

"I would be lying to say that I was able to block all that stuff out," Bylsma said. "It's been a tough last couple days in terms of dealing with the disappointment of losing in the conference final and not getting to play for the Stanley Cup. But that confidence in our group and in my staff moving forward was very important."

Assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden also were given two-year extensions. Goalie coach Gilles Meloche was reassigned within the organization and will serve as a special assignment scout; Shero said that was Meloche's decision and was based on the 62-year-old wanting to spend more time with his family.

Bylsma said the search for Meloche's replacement is in the early stages.

Shero begins his offseason knowing he won't have to spend any time searching for Bylsma's replacement. Hired as general manager during the summer of 2006, Shero never has endured a coaching search. He inherited Michel Therrien as coach, and when he chose to fire Therrien eight months after he led the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, Bylsma was promoted from his job as coach of the organization's American Hockey League affiliate.

The interim tag was removed from Bylsma's title after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup that summer.

But he's won fewer playoff series in the ensuing four years than he did in his first four months on the job. In 2010, the Penguins were eliminated in the second round by the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens. The following year, they squandered a 3-1 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference quarterfinals.

Last season, the defense (specifically, the penalty kill) imploded in a first-round series loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, when they allowed 30 goals in six games. This year in the postseason, it was a lack of offense that did in Pittsburgh.

But Bylsma's regular-season success is impossible to ignore. The Penguins went 36-12-0 this season, and their 72 points were the most in the Eastern Conference. They had a 15-game winning streak in March that included three consecutive shutouts.

Many pundits tabbed the Penguins as the Stanley Cup favorite when the playoffs began. Wednesday, Shero repeatedly said that 26 other NHL teams would have been happy to be in the Penguins' shoes in the conference finals.

In the end, during every season Bylsma has guided them, the Penguins entered the postseason with a legitimate chance to claim the Stanley Cup. In regards to the franchise's mission statement, Shero determined Bylsma is fulfilling it.

"I really believe in my evaluation of this team moving forward I have a very good coach that I want to continue to work with leading this team," said Shero, who said he discussed Bylsma's fate with co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux during a long meeting Tuesday.

Shero went into that meeting armed with a presentation explaining why Bylsma was worthy of an extension. However, he said Burkle and Lemieux cut him off before doing so, saying they supported Bylsma as coach.

"I wanted to reward [Bylsma] with an extension that shows him and shows people that he's my coach and I believe in him," Shero said. "That's how I want to run this business, and with the support of ownership and [team president] David Morehouse and how we're doing things here, we all believe in that. I want to stick to that if I believe in something."

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