Ex-Penguins coach Bylsma in Canucks' sights?
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma talks to referee Eric Furlatt against the New York Rangers during Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, May 4, 2014. (CHARLES LeCLAIRE/USA Today)
Goodbye Sidney, hello Sedins?
Now that Dan Bylsma is on the job market after being relieved of his duties by incoming Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on Friday, how long before teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes start looking into his availability?
Within hours of Bylsma’s dismissal, there already was a suggestion from the Vancouver Province that Bylsma had moved to the front of the pack among candidates for the Canucks coaching vacancy. Up until this point, it had been believed that Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins and, perhaps, former Vancouver coach Marc Crawford, might be leading the charge for the post as Vancouver bench boss, a pecking order that seems to have been sent topsy-turvey once Bylsma became a free agent.
If Bylsma is patient enough to oversee a rebuild, maybe the Panthers job would be attractive. Keep in mind that he and Florida GM Dale Tallon worked together as part of the U.S. Olympic team program. Tallon was part of the braintrust that selected the team while Bylsma, of course, was the coach.
As for Carolina, wouldn’t it be ironic if Bylsma landed in Raleigh with the Hurricanes, the organization with which Rutherford served as GM for two decades?
A Bylsma-for-Rutherford swap? How juicy would that be? It wouldn’t be a situation in which both men were traded for each other — more like the Alain Vigneault-John Tortorella soap opera in which they essentially replaced each other with the Rangers and Canucks, respectively.
Whatever the case, count on Bylsma being a wanted man.
Sure, there are plenty of critics who feel any coach with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the roster should have done better than just one Stanley Cup, which he won in 2009 after replacing Michel Therrien midway through the season. Indeed, post-season shortcomings were at the root of GM Ray Shero’s axing last month and, on Friday, helped to spell the end for Bylsma in Pittsburgh.
The numbers don’t lie: Since hoisting the Cup five years ago, Bylsma’s Penguins were 27-27 in the playoffs, including 1-6 in elimination games on home ice.
At the same time, you can’t ignore the impressive regular-season record of 252-117-32 over 400 games or the Jack Adams award as NHL coach of the year in 2010-11.
If you are Jim Benning, the new GM of the Canucks, wouldn’t you have been on the phone with Bylsma the moment his firing was annouced? Maybe he was.
Of course, Bylsma might also opt to sit back for a year and see what other jobs open up. With Randy Carlyle under new team president Brendan Shanahan’s watchful eye in Toronto and Mike Babcock’s contract with the Red Wings expiring at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Bylsma might be better off in the long run by playing the waiting game.
At his introductory press conference, here’s how Rutherford explained the decision to let Bylsma go.
“What ownership wants here is a complete change in direction,” Rutherford said. “We met with Dan this morning. The timing for him is good because there’s coaching vacancies. It’s not going to be long until he coaches again in the league.”
Maybe even just a matter of days.
Rutherford, 65, admitted that he was brought in to tutor Jason Botterill to take over the GM’s post in two or three years. When Shero was let go, Botterill served as interim GM until being promoted to associate GM on Friday.
“He’s close,” Rutherford said of Botterill’s ability to handle the GM’s job.
The Penguins also named Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin as assistant GMs.
There has been plenty of speculation as to why the Penguins kept Bylsma dangling in limbo for the past few weeks instead of relieving him of his duties on the same day as Shero. One school of thought is that they did not want him bolting to the rival Washington Capitals, who ended up hiring Barry Trotz.
Knowing that Bylsma owns the all-time best regular-season points percentage among coaches that have overseen at least 400 games, you can understand why — if that, indeed, was the case, that is.
Rutherford said he has a short list of candidates for the Pens coaching vacancy and hopes to start interviews on June 16. The goal is to have someone on the job by the beginning of free agency on July 1.
Some of the names being bandied about on the web as possible replacements for Bylsma: Desjardins; John Hynes of the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre: former Flyers bench boss John Stevens, now an assistant with the Stanley Cup finalist Los Angeles Kings; former Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, who led the Canadian women to gold at the Sochi Olympics; the man of many former NHL coaching jobs, Mike Keenan; and ex-Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson, who reportedly interviewed with the Panthers earlier this week.
It will be interesting to see if Crosby has any say in the final decision.
It’s a good bet that owner Mario Lemieux will.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
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