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Dan Bylsma hired as coach of Buffalo Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres got the experienced, Stanley Cup-winning coach they were looking for to help them move their rebuild into the next stages.

The Sabres on Thursday introduced Dan Bylsma as the 17th coach in their history. Bylsma spent 5 1/2 seasons coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins and led them to the Stanley Cup in 2009. He's eager to turn the NHL's 30th-place team in each of the past two seasons into a winner again.

"The developing, the winning, the culture of winning and developing that with your group and your team is going to be something I learned with the Pittsburgh Penguins, something you developed," Bylsma said. "It wasn't something that we had because you had certain players on your roster, and that's something that we have to immediately get into the Buffalo Sabres organization, get into our DNA, get into who we are and how we play and develop that culture with this group.

"It's a different group. It's a young group. It's a group that's on the rise, in terms of their talent and their ability, but that is something that we are going to have to do and do here with the Sabres organization."

Bylsma joins the Sabres after the two worst seasons in their history. Buffalo fired Ted Nolan on April 12 after he went 40-87-17 after replacing Ron Rolston on Nov. 13, 2013. Before signing Bylsma, the Sabres pursued Mike Babcock, but the former Detroit Red Wings coach signed an eight-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 20.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray said he feels he got the right coach to help develop a team loaded with young players that will be trying to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011.

"I think his record as a NHL head coach speaks for itself: high winning percentage, a lot of wins in a short period of time, great communicator" Murray said. "Obviously, we're going to be a young team. We need somebody who knows how to teach, knows how to communicate. It's not just telling somebody what to do; it's why you have to do that. There aren't a lot of coaches who can do that. I think Dan is one of them that can.

"It's a teaching process. It can improve a little bit every day, and we improved today, so this is part of the process of getting better. We improved today by getting him."

The Penguins, who fired Bylsma on June 6, 2014, with two years remaining on his contract, will receive a third-round pick from the Sabres in the 2016 NHL Draft. That pick will come from the New York Islanders, who gave it to Buffalo along with goaltender Chad Johnson in the trade that sent goalie Michal Neuvirth to the Islanders on March 2. The Sabres still have two third-round choices next year.

Bylsma didn't coach in 2014-15 until serving as an assistant under Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, in which an inexperienced U.S. team won the bronze medal.

Bylsma said the year away from the NHL should prove beneficial.

"I've watched more hockey games than I really wanted to this season," Bylsma said. "I'm quite confident my wife thinks I watched too many hockey games this past season. It has afforded me the opportunity to look at the game from a distance, to look at different aspects of the game, and question, even grow, as a coach."

Bylsma was 252-117-32 in Pittsburgh after replacing Michel Therrien on Feb. 15, 2009. The Penguins made the playoffs in each of his seasons.

Bylsma joins the Sabres as they're set to move into the next stage of a rebuild that is centered around forwards Sam Reinhart and Tyler Ennis and defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Bylsma said he feels the players to create substantial improvement are in place, with more on the way.

"I think there's a number of pieces the Sabres I've looked at the past year and watched them play," Bylsma said. "The defensemen are big, strong; they're young defensemen, developing certainly last year … I have, I think, some of the pieces that are in place currently. [Left wing] Matt Moulson is a guy I really enjoyed coaching against. Tyler Ennis is a dynamic player any time he steps onto the ice.

"And then you start to look at some of the pieces that are going to be coming to the organization that I think we'll be getting some very good hockey players coming here."

The Sabres have the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and are expected to pick Boston University center Jack Eichel. Bylsma coached Eichel at the World Championship.

"You had a chance to see a guy who's going to be an elite player," Bylsma said of Eichel, who became the first freshman since Paul Kariya in 1993 to win the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in U.S. college hockey. "He's got outstanding skill, and you see him play against a lot of NHL players. He matched up against Evgeni Malkin when we played Russia, he's playing against Tomas Plekanec when we play against the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game. He's playing against NHL players and he stacked right up there with his skill and his size and his ability to play the game.

"Jack's going to be a good pick for anybody that does take him."

Bylsma has a lot to look forward to with the Sabres regarding players, but it was what he's done to this point in his career that made Buffalo happy to hire him.

"He's been through it. Stanley Cup Final as a player [with the 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim], winning the Stanley Cup as a coach," Murray said. "To me, he's a winner. He knows what it takes to get there, how to perform when you are there. So there's a lot of lessons he can give to young players. That's part of the culture. We've been trying to change the culture here every day, but this is a big swing to the positive."

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