The Pittsburgh Penguins have just awarded head coach Dan Bylsma a very well deserved 3 year contract extension. Bylsma has been keeping the 2010-2011 roller coaster ride of a season on steady course and it is about time he gets some accolades from the rest of the NHL.
The Penguins had Scotty Bowman coach them , he has won the award 3 times with other teams. Last year Dave Tippett, who played for the Penguins the year they won the President’s trophy, won the Jack Adams award with Phoenix. The Penguins GM Ray Shero’s father Fred Shero was the first coach to ever win the award, but a Pittsburgh Penguins coach has never won the NHL’s Jack Adams Award for coach of the year (playoffs not included). The award even somehow eluded the great Bob Johnson who took a Penguins team who missed the playoffs, a team full of young nobodies at the time (Recchi, Cullen, Stevens, Jagr) and made the playoffs even though Mario Lemieux missed 56 games.
If you remember back to the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, it started out a bit rough. Sidney Crosby got off to the worst start of his career and Marc-Andre Fleury looked like he couldn’t stop a beach ball.
Bylsma never lost focus or did anything rash. He played Brent Johnson when needed and gave Fleury just enough playing time to work through his troubles. He worked through line combinations for Crosby coming up with the Kunitz, Crosby Dupuis line. In mid November he had the team running like a well oiled machine. The Penguins won 12 games in a row, Crosby had a huge scoring streak going and HBO had just come to town filming it’s behind the scenes 24/7 show on the road to the Winter Classic.
Bylsma demeanor during the 24/7 show should be well noted. Even though his team could have lost focus with all of the filming, he continued to keep the team on track. Then finally the Winter Classic happened, Jordan Stall returned to the Penguins and the whole team for the most part was healthy and ready to take on the rest of the season.
That’s when the wheels fell off the coaster. Sidney Crosby got a concussion, Evgeni Malkin got hurt, Malkin came back for a game, Malkin got hurt again and was now out for the season, Cooke got suspended, Letestu was out for 6 weeks, Kunitz got injured, Asham got a concussion, Tangradi got a concussion, Orpik broke a finger. There were crazy rumors flying around everywhere like my favorite that Crosby was purposely missing the All-Star game. The ESPN and NHL reporters all started writing off the Penguins saying not only were they no longer a favorite to win the cup, they would be lucky to make the playoffs.
Through all this, the Penguins kept bringing up players from the WBS Penguins. Many of which played under Dan Bylsma when he coached there. All of which are still playing under a system implemented by Dan Bylsma which is being ran by WBS Penguins new head coach John Hynes. At one point half of Pittsburgh’s roster was call ups from the AHL team.
When you look at the AHL’s newly released “Clear Day” roster you will notice a bunch of names like Dustin Jeffrey, Brett Sterling, Ryan Craig, Tim Wallace, Joe Vitale and others. These players played most of the season in the AHL yet had huge contributions to the Pittsburgh team because they were able to contribute right away because of Bylsma’s system.
One of the big reason coach Bylsma deserves award consideration is because right after Malkin was diagnosed with the season ending torn ACL, Bylsma started to implement a defensive styled system. He knew Crosby may not be returning and the Penguins just did not have the fire power to run and gun with the other teams. All of the sudden, the Penguins are playing low scoring close defensive style games.
The Penguins have had 8 of the last 10 games decided by 1 goal, 7 out of the last 10 have gone to overtime. Not only did Bylsma have to come up with an entirely new system. He had to get all of the players to buy into it. Through all of the ups and downs of the season Bylsma has kept the team upbeat, focused and most importantly believing. So much so the Penguins are tied for 3rd best record in the NHL behind Vancouver and Philadelphia.
The Penguins just beat the heavily favored and rested Boston Bruins playing on Boston’s home ice. They put a stop to Boston’s 7 game winning streak, the night after the Penguins took the NJ Devils to overtime in New Jersey.
Coach Bylsma is getting some hefty competition from two time Jack Adams Award winner and current NJ Devils coach Jacques Lemaire who has completely turned the Devils around and has them in range now of a playoff spot by going 20-2-2 since January 9th. The ironic thing about Jacques Lemaire being his competition for the award is that Dan Bylsma needed to take the Penguins on an incredible very similar run two years ago just to reach the playoffs and never even got a nod. Bylsma went on and won the Stanley Cup that year.
There are 14 games left this season, anything can happen. My money is on Bylsma being able to overcome whatever is thrown his way.