According to reports, the Florida Panthers next head coach will be one of the these six men: There's Bill Peters and Gerard Gallant, who we've already taken a look at (click on their names if you missed the articles), Marc Crawford, Tom Renney, Ron Wilson, and the recently fired Dan Bylsma. Let's dig into the background of Bylsma, who many now consider the front-runner, and get to know him a little better.
Dan Bylsma embarked on professional hockey career that lasted over a decade after playing four seasons at Bowling Green State University. A draft pick of the original Winnipeg Jets, the gritty forward played for two NHL teams over that span, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and spent his fair share of time toiling in the minors as well. After wrapping up his playing career with the Ducks AHL affiliate in Cincinnati, Bylsma joined that club's staff as an assistant to Brad Shaw during the 2003-04 season. That year turned out to the final one for the Cincinnati version of the Mighty Ducks and both Shaw and Bylsma were hired as assistants by then New York Islanders coach Steve Stirling. Stirling got the boot midway through the 2005-06 campaign after the Isles struggled to a 18-22-2 start. Shaw took over the reins the rest of the way and Bylsma stayed on in his assistant capacity. After the season, "Disco Dan" moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as an assistant for the club's AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Grand Haven, MI native worked under Todd Richards for the next two seasons before Richards moved on to the San Jose Sharks. Bylsma was named the team's head coach at the start of the 2008-09 season and led them to a sparkling 35-16-1-2 record before he was summoned by parent Pittsburgh to take over as head coach on an interim basis to replace the fired Michel Therrien.
The coaching change worked wonders for the middling Penguins, who finished the campaign with an 18-3-4 record under Bylsma. Late in the season, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero made the change permanent by removing the interim tag. The rookie head coach led the Pens past the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes on their way to a seven-game Stanley Cup win over the powerful Detroit Red Wings. The 2009-10 season saw the Penguins finish with a 47-28-7 record, good for second place in the Atlantic Division. After a first round playoff win over the Ottawa Senators, the team was upset by the eight-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the second round, beginning a string of playoff disappointments that ultimately would cost both general manager and coach. The next season, the Pens posted a record of 49-25-8 and failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs, falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pittsburgh was missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for much of the campaign, so their fine regular season performance resulted in a Jack Adams Award win for Bylsma as the NHL's Coach-of the-Year. 2011-12 saw the Pens break the 50-win plateau to finish with a 51-25-6 record, but once again the team flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, this time going out at the hands of the Flyers, their bitter cross-state rivals. During the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13, the Penguins finished with the Eastern Conference's best record at 36-12. In the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled a bit with the upstart Islanders before cruising past the Ottawa Senators. Their postseason run came to an abrupt end when they were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Final. This past season, Bylsma steered the Penguins to a 51-24-7 finish, tops in the NHL's new Metropolitan Division. Again one of the favorites for Lord Stanley's chalice, the favored Pens had their hands full with wild entry, the Columbus Blue Jackets, but managed to advance past the opening round. The second round was a different story, as the New York Rangers bounced the Penguins in front of their home crowd with a game seven win at Consol Energy Center. During the season, Bylsma was tabbed to coach the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi and led the team to a fourth-place finish that included a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Canada in the semifinals, and an embarrassing defeat to the Finns in the Bronze Medal game that left a bitter taste in the mouths of some American fans, myself included.
After the conclusion of their season, the Penguins cut loose GM Shero, leaving Bylsma in limbo for an extended period of time. When they finally hired Jim Rutherford on June 6th, the new GM announced that the veteran head coach's time with Pittsburgh had come to an end, thus ending a productive regular season relationship, but one that included too many disappointing postseason exits after the initial Stanley Cup win in 2009. The man who got to 200 and 250-wins faster than any coach in NHL history immediately climbed to the top of the list of potential Panthers' head coaching candidates, at least in the eyes of the media and fans. Bylsma did work with Dale Tallon, who was part of Team USA's management brigade, during the Sochi Games, so there is a connection there. He also boasts an ultra-impressive résumé, with an NHL record of 252-117-32. The question many have regarding Bylsma is how much of the Penguins' success over the last six seasons can actually be attributed to his coaching talent or how much that sterling won-loss record is simply a result of having superstars like Crosby and Malkin on the roster, and on the flip side of that, where does the lion's share of responsibility for the club's playoff problems lie, with the coach or with the players. Having said that, it's hard to knock him; a Stanley Cup, Jack Adams Award, and being named head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team is pretty hard to overlook. The Panthers would likely consider themselves very lucky if they are able to land an experienced, high-profile coach like Dan Bylsma to lead the club's much-needed turnaround.