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Penguins reward Bylsma with three-year extension

by Dan Rosen
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero said Wednesday that he wasn't quite sure what the Penguins were getting when he named Dan Bylsma the team's interim coach Feb. 15, 2009.

"I'm a little offended," Bylsma jokingly responded.

Hey, the guy has a right to be. All he's done in the less than 25 months since taking over for Michel Therrien is guide the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship and 104 regular-season wins.

Shero rewarded Bylsma on Wednesday with a three-year contract extension that should keep him in Pittsburgh at least through the 2013-14 season. Bylsma hinted that his wife, Mary Beth, might be the most relieved by Wednesday's news.

"She's counting off the years of schooling that this contract takes us through," he told reporters in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. "We're happy and I'm thrilled."

"When I look at a coach I look at three things: The ability to teach, inspire and motivate, and he does all three very well." -- Penguins Executive Vice President and General Manager Ray Shero

Bylsma, 40, said he was approached by Shero back in late October about a contract extension. He added that he was most definitely "not offended" by that.

"There weren't any serious talks at that point in time, but it has progressed over the past five months," Bylsma said Wednesday during an interview on NHL Live! "Ray said, 'You're my coach and you're going to be the coach of the Penguins moving forward.' It has finally come to fruition. It's pretty gratifying."

Bylsma arguably is doing his most impressive coaching job this season.

Despite injuries to superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, plus the absence of Jordan Staal for the first half of the season, Bylsma still has the Penguins just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for first in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference this season. They are 39-21-8 with 86 points, which is tied for the third-most in the NHL.

"You talk about certain things as a coach and you believe in certain things and the players have believed in them. Sometimes it takes adversity to show that to be true," Bylsma said during his press conference. "I'm thrilled for the guys in that room right now that they have had to go through that adversity because they've worked and battled. They believe and they have something special in that room. A little bit of adversity has shown the kind of character we have in that room."

Bylsma said on NHL Live! that the reason the club has been able to overcome such significant injuries is because of the way it plays defense. The Penguins have the NHL's best penalty kill (86.8 percent) and rank fifth in goals-against average (2.41). They are sixth with 19 one-goal wins.

"We've been trying to play defense in Pittsburgh since I got here in '09 and maybe that hasn't been the perception," Bylsma said. "It's easy to get misguided and misled when you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but we've paid as much attention and taken as much pride in working as a defensive team. You're seeing that now this year. Our guys have been outstanding. Marc-Andre Fleury is having a great season, but we take great pride in defending and our penalty kill. We're getting some credit for that now and we're getting credit for our work ethic. Now you're seeing that as the identity of our team."

Bylsma was almost defiant when host Don LaGreca asked him about Crosby and if the team is operating as if he will not return this season from his concussion-related symptoms.

"We haven't changed our demeanor. We haven't said we can't do this or we have to hold fort," Bylsma said. "We're playing and competing like we're a good team and we can win hockey games, and we're going to do it with the guys in the room.

"We'd definitely love to see him return to full health and get back on the ice. That would be a great post-deadline move by Ray Shero, but we're going to keep trying to win hockey games. If that means we're going to play the first week in April without Sid or go into the playoffs without Sid, we'll continue to be a good hockey team."

Bylsma has compiled a 104-52-19 regular-season record, and his winning percentage of .649 is the highest of any coach in Penguins history. He is already tied with Scotty Bowman for the team record in playoff victories (23) and playoff series wins (five).

"When I look at a coach I look at three things: The ability to teach, inspire and motivate, and he does all three very well," Shero said. "Dan was on the last year of his contract and the relationship I developed with Dan, in October the team wasn't doing well but I sat down with Dan and said, 'You're my coach and I'm going to sit down and talk contract with you in the future.' I was 100-percent sure we had the right coach."

Bylsma says the extension will not change him or relax him.

"I'm appreciative of this contract, but I'm going to make sure that I'm going to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow and I'm going to act like it until someone tells me I'm not," Bylsma said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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