Usually coaches with résumés as impressive as Dan Bylsma's aren't out of work for very long. Bylsma hasn't been an NHL head coach in almost a year, but that’ll change when he steps behind the bench for the Buffalo Sabres this fall.
The Sabres hired Bylsma on Thursday to become the 17th coach in franchise history. Bylsma, 44, previously served as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2009-14.
During his five-plus season tenure there, he became the winningest coach in Penguins history, winning two division titles (2012-13, 2013-14) and the Stanley Cup in 2009. He picked up the Jack Adams Award as the League’s “Most Outstanding Coach” in 2011.
In April 2014, he became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 250 wins, a feat he accomplished after just 396 regular-season games.
“To me, he’s a winner. He knows what it takes to get there, how to perform when you are there,” Sabres general manager Tim Murray said at Bylsma's introductory press conference at First Niagara Center. “So there are 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.”
The Sabres have a lot of high draft picks coming up through the ranks and will add another extremely talented player when they select second-overall at the 2015 NHL Draft in June. The established talent already on the team in addition to what the future likely holds strongly appeals to Bylsma.
“There is a bright future ahead for this team with a lot of young, great hockey players here and on the way to the Buffalo Sabres organization,” he said.
Bylsma also mentioned both a passionate fan base and ownership group that wants to see the team win games and eventually a championship.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of that and developing that as the Sabres go forward,” he said.
Murray believes that Bylsma can pass on a lot of what he’s learned about winning to everyone in the organization, including himself.
“He’s done something that I haven’t done – he’s won a Cup. So he’s had an experience that I haven’t had. He can teach me about that experience,” Murray said. “He can teach the rest of our organization, our equipment staff, our medical training staff, including the players that we want to walk around here and think like winners, eventually act like winners and become winners. He’s a big piece of that.”
Since Bylsma was still under contract with the Penguins, Buffalo was obligated to send a third-round pick back as compensation when they struck a deal. That pick will come in 2016 and Buffalo now holds two third-round picks in that draft, including their own. Murray said it was important to hold onto their own pick in case they choose to sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet.
When it comes to Bylsma’s assistant coaching staff, Murray said he would give Bylsma some ideas about who to interview, but Bylsma “will not be hiring an assistant coach that he does not want to.”
After the Penguins decided to shake up their front office and coaching staff after their firsr-round exit in 2014, Bylsma spent the past year doing work on television and serving as an assistant coach for Team USA during the IIHF World Championship that wrapped up earlier this month. The U.S. won the bronze medal at the tournament.
During his time away from coaching, Bylsma said he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the game in different ways and how he could become a better coach when the next opportunity presented itself.
What he said he’s missed the most is being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I missed the competition. I missed the coaching of the players, but I think probably at the end, when you see the playoffs start and you see teams start to battle for the Stanley Cup, that’s the time,” Bylsma said. “I watched a lot of hockey games and I studied different games, I tried to look at different aspects of it.
“But when they started competing for the Stanley Cup and playing the playoffs, I missed not being a part of that.”