Tag: Dan Bylsma

Simon Despres

Looking to make the leap: Simon Despres


By now, you may know all about Simon Despres. The smooth-skating defenseman has gotten a more than a few looks the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but now he’s at a bit of a crossroads.

As opposed to other players we’ve featured in our series, Despres is in a tricky position when it comes to making the leap. Instead of trying to blast his way out of junior or college hockey, he’s trying to make his way out of the American Hockey League.

The 23-year-old came in highly-touted when he was taken in the first-round, 30th overall in 2009 out of Saint John. He put up strong numbers for the Sea Dogs and turned pro in 2011. Since then, it’s been a bumpy ride that’s seen him get acclimated to taking the bus between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh.

One of the highlights to his game coming out of juniors was his offensive play. In four seasons he had 134 points in 240 games (0.55 points per-game). Since turning pro, that part of his game has all but disappeared.

In 85 games with Pittsburgh, he has 16 points (0.18 PPG) and in the AHL he had 45 points in 107 games (0.42 PPG). On the bright side, his possession numbers during his time in Pittsburgh have been very strong, especially the past two seasons. On the other hand, he could never find a way to impress Dan Bylsma enough to stick around full-time.

Perhaps fortunately for Despres, Bylsma is gone and Mike Johnston is in. With Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik now in Washington, the Penguins are going to have one hole to fill on the blue line. Christian Ehrhoff should take over where Niskanen left off, but with puck possession becoming a more vital part to playing defense, the opportunity for Despres to make a good impression is there for the taking.

The problem he’s going to face in training camp, however, will come from other young defenseman itchy to make it to Pittsburgh themselves. Olli Maatta showed last season that age is but a number and solid play will help you stick around. It’s that example Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot, and Philip Samuelsson will be looking to follow.

With hefty competition amongst young defenseman and many others likely holding spots down already (Ehrhoff, Maatta, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi), the Pens blue line will be more than worth watching in training camp.

Perhaps fortunately for Despres, everyone will start with a clean slate for the new coach.

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins

Another year with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their prime turned into another year without a Stanley Cup.

The Penguins got an MVP season out of Crosby, who was head and shoulders above everyone last season, but wound up getting bumped out in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. Making matters worse, the Pens had a 3-1 lead in the series until Henrik Lundqvist turned into brick wall.

Crosby struggled in the postseason and not just because of Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky’s heroics. A rumored wrist injury may or may not have slowed him down. He also didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. Outside of Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Niskanen others failed to show up. James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang all had lackluster performances.

The Pens got a breakout season from 19-year-old Olli Maatta on defense and managed to dance around a stroke to Letang during the regular season to have a solid year on the blue line. Niskanen’s big season helped soften the blow of losing Letang and Paul Martin was steady as well.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury was steady as anyone putting up a .915 save percentage both in the regular season and playoffs. While he’s always easy to point the finger at when things go south, he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s problem last season. A lack of strong forward depth, especially in the wake of losing Pascal Dupuis for the season, and defensive injuries helped make life a lot harder than it had to be during the season and worse still during the playoffs.

Offseason recap

If was a summer of front office changes for the Pens. Both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were sent packing and in came former Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as well as first-time NHL coach Mike Johnston from the WHL Portland Winterhawks. After bowing out to the New York Rangers, that was the last straw for Penguins ownership.

The Pens also made big changes on the ice as well as they traded Neal to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik bolted for the truly greener pastures of Washington to join the Capitals. They also let Jokinen, Tanner Glass, and Joe Vitale walk in free agency.

Pittsburgh may have made the sneakiest splashes of the offseason landing former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and former Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie on one-year deals. Blake Comeau, along with Spaling, will also help their bottom six be not as easy to push around.

Pick of the litter: Panthers hire Gerard Gallant as coach

Gerard Gallant

The Florida Panthers have found their man to lead the team.

The team announced they’ve hired Gerard Gallant to be the new head coach. He was an assistant coach for Michel Therrien with the Montreal Canadiens the past two seasons and is a former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon had glowing words for Gallant in the team’s press release.

“We are pleased to welcome Gerard as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers,” said Tallon. “He is an individual with tremendous character, integrity and a strong passion for the game and has experience as an NHL head coach. Gerard is an excellent teacher and motivator who possesses the leadership qualities and hockey knowledge that are necessary to lead our team.”

The Panthers chose Gallant out of a field of hopefuls that included recent Carolina Hurricanes hire Bill Peters, former Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, and former Stanley Cup winner Marc Crawford among others. Crawford just verbally agreed to return to his job in Switzerland.

Gallant has a lot of experience behind the bench as both an assistant and a head coach.

He worked as an assistant for three seasons in Columbus before ascending to the top job for parts of three more seasons. He’s also been an assistant with the New York Islanders as well as the Habs.

More importantly for the current Panthers roster, he was head coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL and led them to back-to-back Memorial Cup titles. His best player on those teams? Panthers young stud forward Jonathan Huberdeau.

Gallant has a very young roster to work with in Florida headed up by Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Erik Gudbranson. He’ll have his hands full in getting this green team together and trying to get back to the playoffs.

The team will formally introduce Gallant at a press conference on Monday.

Niskanen says Bylsma firing won’t affect his decision

Matt Niskanen

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, and impending unrestricted free agent, Matt Niskanen has a lot of questions to answer about where he’ll play next season and years to come soon.

The question of whether Niskanen will remain in Pittsburgh or not was already up in the air before coach Dan Bylsma was fired. So where does he stand after that? As Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shares, he’s in wait-and-see mode.

“Dan being dismissed won’t affect my decision,” Niskanen said. “However, I will pay attention to what the coaching staff is going to look like. It’s not the only factor in the decision. But it is a factor.”

Regardless of who the new coach is, Niskanen may already be ticketed out of town.

The Penguins already have a lot of big money committed to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. With the salary cap going up to possibly over $70 million, the kind of deal Niskanen could command in free agency would be worth big bucks. The Penguins have other needs to address and other teams have holes on the blue line to fill.

Unless the new coach is someone Niskanen knows and loves, he’ll likely be in a different uniform next season.

Canucks GM Benning says Bylsma is ‘an interesting name’ out there

Dan Bylsma

Former Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has been without a job for almost a full day and his list of suitors continues to grow.

You can add Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning to the list of people taking a shine to Bylsma. As Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun shares, he has his hands full getting settled into his own new job but Disco Dan is on his radar.

“We’ve been in meetings all day, so we haven’t had a chance to really sit down and talk about it,” Benning said Friday afternoon of Bylsma’s sudden availability. “But he’s an interesting name, for sure.”

The Canucks have been in search of a new coach since they fired John Tortorella following the season. After such a poor and disappointing season, they’re in need of a new and better direction. Bylsma suddenly being available changes things up.

It was believed Willie Desjardins, head coach of the AHL Texas Stars, was one of the leading candidates for the Canucks job, but the Stars are in the Calder Cup Finals so he hasn’t been available to interview. Now with Bylsma available and Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon already taking a shine to him, the Canucks may be pressed for time to make a decision.