Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma helped Pittsburgh navigate a minefield of injuries to big time players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in propelling the Penguins into the playoffs as the fourth seed. He also helped the Penguins to win 49 games this year and came within one point of winning the Atlantic Division.
That sort of rèsumè for Bylsma helped him win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year. Bylsma edged out Alain Vigneault of Vancouver and Nashville’s Barry Trotz for the award. For Bylsma it’s his first coach of the year award and one that he more than earned given the laundry list of injuries the Penguins faced this season up front at forward. Starting out the year without Jordan Staal and closing it without Crosby and Malkin would make most coaches crack.
Bylsma adjusted and helped make the Penguins a tenacious defensive team and one that was poised to be a tough out in the playoffs. The Pens ultimately lost in seven games in the first round to Tampa Bay, but they couldn’t have gotten even that far without his coaching.
Byslma said his biggest adjustments came before the injuries happened
Call it typical hockey-style modesty if you want, but Bylsma seemed adamant that he didn’t really do anything drastic to keep the Penguins on a winning track after Crosby and Malkin went down.
“I’d like to tell you that I did something really marvelous to keep it going but that’s not the case,” Bylsma said. “And looking back I think that the best thing that we’ve done – and we continue to do – is give our players have a clear understanding of how we’re going to have success as a team and how we’re going to play.”
“At that time when you were all asking what we were doing I felt sheepish thinking I’m really not doing that much. I think all that was done long before the injuries happened.“
The impact of HBO
HBO’s 24/7 series was a wonderful display of storytelling, colorful language and Matt Hendricks’ gnarly stitches. One of the biggest beneficiaries was Bylsma, though. He came across as a wonderful (and detailed) motivator and a warm family man in those great episodes.
Bylsma admitted that the documentary series probably helped him win the Jack Adams.
“I think even within the Pittsburgh community of media people, they had a picture of Dan Bylsma in their brain in which they see about 5 percent of who you are,” Bylsma said. “They see a serious guy behind the bench. That’s not me. I’m a terribly emotional person and guy. I have a huge passion for the game and it’s not shown when I’m on the bench.”
Bylsma said that the series showed a different side of his personality and the relationships he has with his players.
I think it was advantageous for me, but I’m not going to put an asterisk by the award just because I had 24/7 though.
Hopefully we’ll get another deeper look at the two coaches in the 2012 Winter Classic when HBO’s cameras roll again.