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It promises to be a busy couple of weeks and months ahead, but Dan Bylsma was happy to add a quick trip to Seattle to be announced as the Kraken’s new head coach Tuesday morning. The 2009 Stanley Cup-winning coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins becomes the second coach in franchise history.

Bylsma flies back to the Palm Springs area later Tuesday to step back into his current role coaching American Hockey League affiliate Coachella Valley in the Western Conference final of the 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs. Game 1 is Wednesday night in the southern California desert.

General Manager Ron Francis and owner Samantha Holloway will introduce the new head coach at 10:30 a.m. inside the team’s locker room at Kraken Community Iceplex. The press conference will be streamed live for additional media and fans.

“Dan is a winner with a proven track record of developing both young and veteran talent, and his leadership will help our team as we move forward,” said General Manager Ron Francis, who interviewed a number of other candidates with NHL experience as head coaches and/or assistants. “He has had success at every level, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, earning a Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach in 2011, and he led the Firebirds to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals last year in the team’s first season. He knows our franchise and has worked with several of our NHL players. We are excited to have him behind the bench and guiding our team next season.”

With Kraken from the Beginning

While in his second season with Coachella Valley – that Calder Cup Final Game 7 defeat was in overtime, and this year’s squad finished with the best record in the Western Conference – Bylsma has been with the Kraken organization since the inaugural season even though the Firebirds started AHL play a year later. He agreed to be an assistant for the AHL Charlotte Checkers in 2021-22 for a franchise that was a split-squad between the Kraken and Florida Panthers for one season. When Coachella Valley entered league play in the fall of 2022, Bylsma was behind the bench with assistant Stu Bickel and his ground-breaking hire of Jessica Campbell as the other assistant coach behind the bench.

“I have a familiarity with a lot of the players and staff here and think we have a chance to build something special together,” said Bylsma. “I’d like to thank everyone with the Coachella Valley Firebirds for welcoming my wife and me with open arms, and I’d like to thank Samantha Holloway and the entire Kraken ownership group, as well as Ron Francis, for trusting me with this opportunity.”

“I’m pleased to introduce Dan Bylsma as the next head coach of the Seattle Kraken. On behalf of the team and the city of Seattle, we would like to welcome Dan and his wife, Mary Beth, to the PNW,” said Holloway. “In addition to developing our young players, the future of the Kraken, he has significant NHL experience and succeeded at the highest level.”

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Developing Talent at ‘Ground Floor’

When hired for Charlotte, Bylsma expressed excitement about “getting in on the ground floor” with the Kraken to join in “the critical job of the American Hockey League team,” developing the organization's pool of players who can contribute at the NHL level.

“We all look at NHL rosters and see the players listed [up to 23 on active rosters]," said Bylsma at the time. "But during the course of a season, the typical NHL roster runs 30, 32, 34 players deep. Seattle fans are going to count a good number of players wearing a Charlotte jersey to start the season that they will be cheering for in NHL games later in the year.”

Kraken fans certainly know those roster additions, watching the likes of AHL Firebirds veterans such as captain Max McCormick, forwards Kole Lind and John Hayden and defenseman Cale Fleury, among others, to be called up to Seattle for parts of the first three seasons.

Just as importantly, Bylsma has run point on preparing Kraken prospects for NHL play. Perhaps most famously, undrafted Tye Kartye progressed from the fourth line to the top line last season with Coachella Valley, putting together a monster second half to win AHL Rookie of the Year honors. When leading scorer Jared McCann was injured in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kartye filled in productively and admirably, scoring three goals and adding two assists in 10 games while playing a hard-nosed all-zones game that continued this season (among other achievements, he led the Kraken in hits this season).

There have been other impressive call-ups, such as defenseman Ryker Evans (2022 AHL all-rookie team) appearing in 31 NHL games this past season never looking out of place and showing a prowess that makes it easy to envision the 2021 second-rounder as a fixture on the blueline for the next decade.

This past season, 2022 first-rounder Shane Wright showed significantly more hop and confidence in his game during a late-season NHL call-up, scoring four goals in five games and being a game-changer for the Firebirds. Another undrafted free agent, Logan Morrison, was impressive during his NHL call-up, same for forward Ryan Winterton.

Bylsma’s Influence on Team Culture, Plus Cup Credentials

The Kartye call-up in the spring of 2023 showed another plus to Bylsma’s potential as a coach for the Kraken. When McCann was injured during the first round against Colorado, two NHL-tested Coachella Valley veterans went to Bylsma separately to urge that Kartye be the one called up with the soaring play of the former juniors star in his rookie pro year. That speaks directly and strongly to a culture espoused by Bylsma that’s all about team-first.

Of course, winning a Stanley Cup and being named a Jack Adams award-winner are formidable credentials for what Bylsma can do with a squad aiming to get back in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs and stay a perennial postseason contender. The 2009 Cup run was a highlight: Bylsma, then coaching the Penguins’ AHL Wilkes-Barres Scranton affiliate, took over as head coach midseason to finish the regular season with an 18-3-4 record.

Bylsma and the Penguins ousted rival Philadelphia in six games, then got by Washington and superstar Alex Ovechkin in seven games before sweeping Carolina in the Eastern Conference final. In the Stanley Cup Final, defending champion Detroit won the first two games at home, then Bylsma and the Pens responded with two close-game wins in Pittsburgh. Game 5 was a Detroit blowout victory, requiring the Penguins to win 2-1 in a possible elimination Game 6. In Game 7, Pittsburgh scored twice in the second period and held off the Red Wings in another 2-1 win. It was the only road victory of the series.

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Working Through Adversity, AHL-NHL Roots as Player and Coach

Bylsma’s 2011 Jack Adams award lauded his work keeping his team in Cup contention all season despite a multitude of roster-gutting injuries. In all, Bylsma posted 252 regular-season wins with Pittsburgh and won 10 playoff series with an overall postseason record of 43-35.

After six years in Pittsburgh, Bylsma served as the Buffalo Sabres head coach for two seasons with a 68-73-23 record and subsequently served as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings for three NHL seasons.

Bylsma, 53, played 429 NHL games for Los Angeles and Anaheim over nine seasons.

In June 2013, Bylsma was appointed head coach of the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He began his coaching career in the AHL as an assistant for Cincinnati and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (where he later became head coach).

He knows the two-way exchange between the NHL and AHL—and his newest job will certainly allow him to leverage that experience and success. His 2022-23 Firebirds squad posted a 48-17-5 record in the regular season with an AHL second-best win percentage of .715 and won four playoff series. This season, Coachella Valley owns the best regular-season record in the Western Conference (46-15-11 and a second .715 win percentage) and is 6-1 in winning two postseason series and six straight games since losing a playoff opener to division rival Calgary.

Wednesday night marks the next chapter for Bylsma and the Firebirds. Kraken executives and fans alike won’t mind if extended Coachella Valley duties cut into his start time with the NHL club.

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