Penguins remove Bylsma's interim tag

| Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thirty-one games into Dan Bylsma's NHL coaching career, the Penguins removed the interim tag and signed him to a three-year contract.

"It's weird because it looks like he's been coaching for 25 years," forward Pascal Dupuis said of Bylsma. "As soon as he walked in (on the first day), we felt he was confident and he knew what he was talking about. It was easy for everybody to see that."

Bylsma, 38, replaced former coach Michel Therrien on Feb. 15 and has turned a struggling Penguins squad into a club that Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider recently identified as a favorite to play in the Stanley Cup final.

Snider should know: Bylsma's Penguins elminated the Flyers from the first-round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.

That accomplishment and the presence of the Penguins in the postseason — they were five points from the East's final playoff spot and 10th in the conference standings when Bylsma was promoted from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — convinced Penguins general manager Ray Shero that Bylsma was his guy.

The Penguins finished the regular season on a 18-3-4 tear under Bylsma.

"It just became more and more evident to me and became clearer and clearer that Dan was the guy I really wanted to move forward with," Shero said. "I asked myself the question, 'Why wait?'"

Shero made his move three days after the Penguins eliminated the Flyers and hours before they learned of their second-round opponent. Beating a tough and talented Flyers team in six games — including a rally in Game 6 in which the Penguins came back from a 3-0 deficit — perhaps sealed the deal for Shero.

It capped Bylsma's already impressive tryout with a Penguins team that seemed reinvigorated under his watch.

"What I really like about Dan and we talked about this ... in a nutshell, Dan's approach is, when you're down, 3-0, our style of play to the players was just keep playing the right way," Shero said.

The detail-oriented, energy-filled Bylsma didn't think he'd be an NHL head coach at this point in his career. A little more than two months ago, he was 55 games into his first head coaching job with the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Then, he got the call to replace Therrien. The same night Bylsma accepted the promotion, Shero deemed him "one of the up-and-coming young coaches in this game."

Bylsma is the youngest coach in the NHL, which might explain why this ride has been surreal to him.

"When you hope and you have hopes and dreams about how you think it's going to go for you ..." Bylsma said. "It certainly happened quicker than I expected or could have expected or anyone expected."

His players didn't seem surprised after being told at a meeting Tuesday morning that Bylsma would be the coach to, as Shero put it, "grow with this team."

The players gloated over Bylsma's passion, work ethic and communication prowess.

"I think he's definitely proven that he knows how to coach a team," defenseman Hal Gill said. "He knows the psyche of a hockey player and he knows how to motivate. He's a young guy. I think he's got a great future."

Having played nine seasons in the NHL from 1995-2004, Bylsma isn't too far removed the situation his players are in. Maybe that's why, as forward Bill Guerin said, being a great communicator is "probably Dan's biggest asset" and why his calmness during the playoffs "is something that's contagious."

It wasn't too long ago that Bylsma was on the other side of the bench when he played in a Stanley Cup final — in 2004 with Anaheim.

He had the same goals his players have and still does as a coach. They respect what he's done and where he's trying to lead them.

"That the guys respect him as a human being is the biggest thing," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think the biggest thing is guys believe he's doing it for our benefit and not his."

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