Dan Bylsma’s tenure behind the Penguins bench – which is already the longest in team history – is going to continue.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero announced Wednesday that the team had signed Bylsma to a two-year contract extension that will keep him as head coach of the team through the 2015-16 season. The Penguins also extended the contracts of assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden.
During his season-ending media conference at CONSOL Energy Center, Shero vehemently and repeatedly stated his belief in Bylsma and the rest of his coaching staff after the Penguins were swept out of the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins. Team owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have also given their full backing to Bylsma.
Shero had his annual season-ending meeting with Lemieux and Burkle on Tuesday to go over a number of talking points, which always includes the team, players, personnel, direction and the coaching staff. But that last part of the discussion went by fast, as Shero said, “from Ron and Mario’s standpoint, they were 100-percent supportive. They made it clear they would like to move forward with Dan Bylsma.”
That unwavering support after what has been a difficult few days for the coaches since the season ended abruptly is invaluable to Bylsma.
“The confidence of Ray Shero and Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, that I am the coach of this team now and going forward and into the future with this extension and this coaching staff, I think was very big for us,” Bylsma said. “It was a tough last couple days in terms of dealing with the disappointment of losing in the conference finals and not moving onto the Stanley Cup, but that confidence in our group and our staff and myself moving forward is very important.”
If Bylsma had questioned that confidence since the buzzer sounded at TD Garden in Boston at the end of Game 4 last Friday, it would be understandable. He knew his team had fallen short of the sky-high expectations that came with being arguably the most talented club in the NHL. He knew that as a result, many in the media and the public had been discussing whether or not Pittsburgh needed a coaching change. And even if he didn’t, he would have found out through friends and family members – even all the way back in his home state of Michigan – who were reaching out to him about it.
“I would be lying to say that I was able to block all that stuff out,” Bylsma said. “It does certainly have an effect on your conversations with your family or with your son or even my brothers. I text them and say I’m doing okay (smiles). It almost intrigues me enough to want to listen just to see what is being said. But that’s outside stuff and we, internally, review where we’re at and what’s going on with our team.
“Did I go home and have my son ask a question if I was going to be back as the coach of the Penguins? He did. He’s well aware of it too. So I’m not going to say that that wasn’t there, those emotions or even thinking about (it) – even with conversations with Ray Shero about that situation. So I did think about it. In terms of me going forward, I think the more you go forward from that, the more my resolve and confidence in my ability and me being coach of this team is strengthened in the past 36-48 hours.”
That ability to coach this team is something Shero, ownership, the staff and the players have not questioned. But Shero has asked questions.
It’s part of the evaluation process for not only Bylsma, but everyone on his staff – including himself. It’s part of Shero’s responsibility as a manager to do what he thinks is right for the team. But Shero has always trusted that Bylsma is the right man for this job, and the answers he received have only reinforced that belief.
“It’s easy to change,” Shero explained. “I would change; I had to do it before. It doesn’t mean Dan Bylsma is not a good coach or Michel Therrien is not a good coach. The information I have, the questions I’ve asked, makes it easier to extend Dan Bylsma because of my belief in him. I believe in what we’re doing. If I didn’t I would make a change, whether it’s coach or players.
“Public sentiment is not kind. Change the coach is always the thing to do. Maybe it’s not. I have a really good relationship with Dan Bylsma, but he reports to me. He’s my coach. It’s not a buddy-buddy system. I have a responsibility to ownership, our fans, my family, to do what I think is right for the team. I believe in my evaluation of the team moving forward that I have a very good coach that I want to lead this team. I want to reward him with an extension that shows him and people that he’s my coach and I believe in him.”
Bylsma and his staff know there is a lot of work ahead in order to rectify what went wrong against the Bruins and to improve as a team in order to capture the Stanley Cup. His players have to be better and so does he.
“In terms of the growth and development and where I can get better as a coach and where we can get better as a staff and a team, that process has been ongoing for a long time and continues to happen,” Bylsma explained. “This is not something that we’re looking at right now because we lost. We looked at our growth and development and where we can get better in ’09. We looked at it in 2010. We look at it as a staff. We do extensive self-evaluation and internal evaluation of each other and what we do as a team, what we do as individuals.
“I think in terms of the coach that I am now, it’s much different than it was two years ago, three years ago, four years ago because of that growth and development.”
The organization’s goal every year is to win the Stanley Cup, and Shero believes that Bylsma can return them to the Final moving forward.
“I really believe we have a great head coach in Dan Bylsma,” Shero said. “I believe he is the coach to lead us forward. I have faith in his ability as a coach to get better as he moves forward. I think that’s the sign of a great coach."