Could Dan Bylsma, with his connections to GM Chuck Fletcher, become Flyers’ next coach?
Dan Bylsma may be best remembered in Philly provoking former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette during a 2012 game while Bylsma was coaching the Penguins, but that wouldn't matter to Chuck Fletcher.
Dan Bylsma has directed a team to a Stanley Cup championship and has a connection with general manager Chuck Fletcher, making him a candidate for the Flyers’ coaching job.
How strong of a candidate?
Fletcher won’t say.
But Bylsma’s resume does a lot of talking:
He had a 252-117-32 record (.668 points percentage) in his five-plus seasons in Pittsburgh, and still has the most coaching wins in franchise history.
When Fletcher was an assistant GM with the Penguins, he hired Bylsma as the coach of their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL team in 2008-09. Bylsma was promoted to Pittsburgh with 25 games left in that season — he replaced Michel Therrien, whose underachieving team had lost more than it had won — and the Penguins promptly went 18-3-4 to get into the playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Bylsma was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach after the 2010-11 campaign, when the Penguins went 49-25-8.
In his first year coaching Buffalo, the Sabres made a 27-point improvement over their previous season.
It would be ironic if he was hired because Bylsma was despised by Flyers fans when he coached the hated Penguins.
Remember when Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called Bylsma “gutless” after he put his tough guys on the ice and a melee ensued in the waning minutes of a 6-4 Flyers’ win in 2012? In that same game, Laviolette got into a shouting match with Bylsma and Pittsburgh assistant Tony Granato – the incensed Flyers’ coach waved a stick at them and tried to cross the partition between the benches after Danny Briere was taken down by a Penguin — and was subsequently fined $10,000 by the NHL.
None of that, of course, will have an effect on Fletcher’s decision.
Fletcher, hired as the Flyers’ GM on Dec. 3, was asked if it was important for his new permanent coach to have a Stanley Cup championship on his resume.
“I don’t think it’s real important,” he said during his season-ending news conference Monday. “I think somebody you share the same philosophy with is important. Experience is important, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the NHL level.”
In Pittsburgh, Bylsma’s teams had great regular seasons, but they faltered in the playoffs after winning the Cup in 2009. They were knocked out in the opening round twice (by Tampa Bay and the Flyers) and reached the conference final just one more time, in 2013, when they were swept by Boston.
Bylsma, now 48, was hired to coach Buffalo in 2015-16, and the Sabres finished with 81 points after collecting just 54 the previous year. In 2016-17, his second season, he was fired after a 33-37-12 campaign. Bylsma still had three years remaining on his contract.
The Sabres compiled a 68-73-23 record in Bylsma’s two seasons. About a week before the coach was fired, Tim Murray, then the Buffalo GM, said Byslma failed to connect with his players on a personal level.
By comparison, Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon got glowing testimonials from his players, many of whom he groomed on the AHL level with the Phantoms, on how he communicated with them. Gordon is among several candidates Fletcher is considering. More candidates will become available as teams are eliminated from the playoffs.
Before last season, Bylsma was hired as a Detroit assistant. He has a 320-190-55 career record as an NHL head coach, but his post-season record is just 43-45.
Fletcher said “coaching experience in general, intelligence, and an ability to communicate” are important traits he wants in his coach. “If you can communicate well, you can motivate.”
He also said it may come down to a gut feeling after “having a conversation with somebody and sharing philosophies, being impressed with somebody’s approach or an answer to a question. There’s a host of factors.”
When Fletcher was a Penguins assistant general manager and he hired Bylsma to direct their AHL team in 2008, he called him “one of the brightest young coaches in the American Hockey League” and said he had “already helped in the development with several players who have made an impact in Pittsburgh.”
Bylsma, a former right winger who had 19 goals in 429 games with Los Angeles and Anaheim, was a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant before Fletcher promoted him.
Will he promote him again?