The only coach on the likely list of candidates to be the next head coach of the Edmonton Oilers with a Stanley Cup ring to his name is Dan Bylsma. The longtime bench boss of the Pittsburgh Penguins hasn’t enjoyed much success since being fired following the 2013-14 season, but Bylsma has a strong reputation and is likely looking for a little redemption.
After seeing his playing career end in the AHL following the 2003-04 season, Bylsma shifted right into coaching. He ended up sticking with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks as an assistant coach after finishing his career with them. He’d last just one season there before taking a job with the New York Islanders as an assistant for the 2005-06 season under the leadership of Steve Stirling.
Stirling managed an 18-22-2 record with the Isles before being fired and replaced with Brad Shaw, who would finish the season as interim head coach. The Isles would name Ted Nolan head coach that off-season, and in turn the entire staff was replaced. Bylsma’s first NHL stint lasted only one season.
He’d return to the AHL that off-season, joining the staff of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as an assistant coach under Todd Richards. The Penguins would have two largely successful seasons, winning 51 games in 2006-07 and 47 games in 2007-08. They’d push players like Kyle Brodziak, Tyler Kennedy Tom Gilbert, Robert Nilsson, Max Talbot, Mark Letestu, Daniel Carcillo, Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy to NHL careers following their time in WBS.
If some of those names look familiar to Oiler fans, that’s because Edmonton shared an affiliate with Pittsburgh for a time. The Oilers didn’t have an AHL affiliate, and were forced to spread their prospects around the league.
Richards left Wilkes-Barre after the 2007-08 season to join the San Jose Sharks as an assistant coach under Todd McLellan, so the reigns were passed on to Bylsma. He’d last just 54 games as coach of the baby Pens, posting a 35-16-1-2 record. The reason? He got called up to the big club as the interim head coach for the final 25 games of the season.
Bylsma led the Pens to a sterling 18-3-4 record in those 25 games, and brought them back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There, the Penguins would advance all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, where they defeated the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena to claim the club’s first Stanley Cup since 1992.
Bylsma was given the job on a full-time basis, and held the position through the end of the 2013-14 season. After a year out of the game, the Buffalo Sabres hired Bylsma to be their head coach after drafting Jack Eichel second overall in the 2015 draft. After a 35-36-11 first season that showed promise, the Sabres fell in year two, going just 33-37-12 and failing to make the playoffs yet again. Bylsma was fired and has yet to be a head coach since.
After taking 2017-18 off and working for NHL Network, Bylsma headed to Detroit last summer to take an assistant coaching job, which he still holds today.
Why Is He Out There?:
Bylsma has a Stanley Cup ring to his credit and a respectable resume that includes coaching some of the best in the game. He had Sidney Crosby on his team during his entire tenure in Pittsburgh and worked with stars like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar.
Although his time in Buffalo didn’t go according to plan, Bylsma’s reputation didn’t exactly take a big hit. He’s still well respected within the game and many people value his time in Pittsburgh working with some of the game’s brightest stars. Of course, the Cup ring to his name will only help him get looks during his career, no matter what happens organizations will value that experience.
What Does He Do Well?:
I’ll give Bylsma this, he handled some tough situations in Pittsburgh quite well. People tend to forget it now, but the career of Crosby wasn’t always a smooth path. At the turn of the decade, Crosby was dealing with what seemed like yearly injury issues, and would miss large chunks of seasons. Bylsma was able to plug Malkin into that top spot and get enough out of his team to be a consistent playoff participant. He handled adversity quite well.
He’s also proven that, when given a strong roster, his teams can be high octane and fun to watch. He’s a very good powerplay coach, which would help a team like Edmonton that has struggled in this area for years it feels like.
Bylsma’s teams, as mentioned above, were fast and fun to watch in Pittsburgh. His system is up-tempo and breeds goals. His teams play with an offensive swagger and have the ability to overwhelm teams with their speed and skill.
The downside of that? Bylsma’s Penguin and Sabre teams both struggled defensively at times, giving up far too many chances on a nightly basis. In Pittsburgh, his teams really struggled to buckle down come playoff time.
I think Bylsma is a bit overrated as a coach, with many people believing that he is a high-level coach that can make a team a contender over night. His teams are almost always fun and are lethal on the powerplay, but they don’t come without warts.
Bylsma is a fine candidate, and there are many positives to his style. That said, he isn’t my first choice. In fact, to me, Bylsma is a more offensive version of Todd McLellan.
I also think it is fair to question how much of his success is due to the star players he was given in Pittsburgh. One could argue, like McLellan, that Bylsma’s teams largely underachieved when the lights were at their brightest.
In the end, Bylsma is certainly a guy I’d want to talk to. How would he manage Edmonton’s offensive stars? How would he deploy them? How would he style the powerplay? In the end, however, I don’t think he is the right guy for this Oiler team at this time. His Buffalo tenure, to me, proves that.