Dan Bylsma

Penguins hand head coach Dan Bylsma three-year extension

Of all the people highlighted in HBO’s splendid 24/7 series on the Winter Classic, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma might have come across the strongest. The Pens’ head coach seemed like a warm, positive presence who steadily maintains an impressive (and open) back-and-forth with general manager Ray Shero.

It looks like that back-and-forth will continue for quite some time, because the team handed Bylsma a three-year extension today. That means he will be under contract through the 2013-14 season.

For all their successes in the ’90s, the Penguins rarely had an outstanding coach aside from a brief run with Scotty Bowman – probably the greatest coach in NHL history. To some extent, it seemed like the club just threw out their big guns and hoped for the best.

So it’s not crazy to wonder if Bylsma is putting together a resume as the best coach in the team’s recent history. Obviously, he helped the team take one step further than Michel Therrien did by winning a Stanley Cup in 2009, but his overall body of work is already a thing of beauty for the franchise.

Bylsma has an overall record of 104-52-19 with the Penguins and has the highest winning percentage (.649) of any coach in franchise history. He also is tied with the legendary Scotty Bowman for the team record in playoff victories (23) and playoff series wins (five).

This season, Bylsma has led the Pens to a 39-21-8 record for 86 points – tied for third place in the overall NHL standings – despite having seen his team already lose 265 man-games to injury. That includes Staal missing 39 games, Crosby missing 27, Malkin missing 25, Chris Kunitz missing 15, Mark Letestu missing 13 and Brooks Orpik missing 12.

The Penguins currently lead the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency (86.8 percent) while ranking fifth in team goals-against average (2.41) and tied for fifth in one-goal wins (19). They’re also tied for seventh in goals scored.

One thing to note about the Penguins’ impressive work without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is that their absence allows Bylsma to run his system as purely as possible. Bylsma was a marginal (at best) NHL player who earned every rep at the pro level by working hard and making intelligent decisions. In many ways, this current, almost star-free rendition of the team is the perfect embodiment of Bylsma’s system and his own game.

Even if this hard-working but hardly scoring edition sputters in the playoffs, it’s been an impressive piece of work by Bylsma. The Penguins’ front office will keep Bylsma, Shero, Crosby, Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and other essential pieces together for the mid-term future, which makes sense considering their success during the last few seasons.

It’s hard to fathom the team regretting this decision, but you never know in this ever-changing league.

Another Sabre hurt: Gionta (lower body) day-to-day

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On the eve of their season opener, the Buffalo Sabres got another bit of bad health news.

Captain Brian Gionta missed practice and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, per head coach Dan Bylsma. The ailment puts the 36-year-old’s availability for Thursday’s game against Ottawa in jeopardy.

The ailment also puts Gionta alongside a slew of hurting Sabres. Defensemen Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges were on the injured list when Buffalo’ roster was released this morning, along with rookie Brendan Guhle and veteran Cody McCormick.

There is a bright light for Buffalo, however.

Gorges skated on Wednesday and could possibly dress tomorrow, per Bylsma. If he does play, it’ll likely be on a pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

Blues put Berglund on LTIR, use savings to sign Gomez

Scotte Gomez
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As was the case last season, Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer because he went unsigned over the summer and once again he has used that opportunity to extend his career.

The St. Louis Blues announced that they have signed Gomez to a one-year contract. They didn’t disclose the financial terms, but it’s a two-way deal that comes with a base salary of $575K at the NHL level, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford.

In order to free up the space necessary to sign him, St. Louis moved Patrik Berglund to the long-term injured reserve list. Berglund had shoulder surgery in August and isn’t expected to be available until January.

Gomez, 35, is coming off of a resurgence campaign where he recorded 34 points in 58 games on a Devils’ team that finished near the bottom of the pack offensively. The two-time Stanley Cup champion will be bringing more than a 1,000 games worth of NHL experience to St. Louis.

He’s not the only veteran forward to make the team off of a PTO as the Blues signed Scottie Upshall on Monday.