Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma was fired on Thursday, on the day the team announced Jim Rutherford as its new general manager.
TVA’s Louis Jean, who reported the firing, had an indication from his sources that Bylsma was not Rutherford’s choice for head coach.
“What ownership wants here is a complete change in direction,” Rutherford said. “We met with Dan this morning. The timing for him is good because there’s coaching vacancies. It’s not going to be long until he coaches again in the league.”
Bylsma had a 252-117-32 record as head coach of the Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 after he replaced Michel Therrien and the Jack Adams Award in 2011. The Penguins made the playoffs in each of these six seasons, but only advanced to the conference final once after winning the Cup. Their seven-game defeat to the New York Rangers ended GM Ray Shero’s term with the team; now it’s claimed Bylsma as well.
It didn’t at first, however. Bylsma was retained when Shero was fired. “I think we’re trying to do it systematically. We’re trying to address the situation at the top,” said CEO Dave Morehouse in May at the press conference.
This sparked widespread speculation that the Penguins were trying to keep Bylsma twisting in the wind to keep him away from teams looking to fill vacancies, specifically the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, both division rivals. The Capitals hired Barry Trotz as their new head coach. Rutherford’s former team, the Hurricanes, still have a vacancy.
(The coach for GM trade would trump the Vancouver/Rangers coaching swap for most bizarre do-si-do in recent NHL history.)
The Florida Panthers would likely pounce on Bylsma if he wanted to take part in that rebuild. Keep in mind that Bylsma worked with GM Dale Tallon while coaching the U.S. men’s hockey team to fourth place in Sochi.
The Vancouver Canucks have a vacancy too, with Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins targeted for the gig. Does Bylsma’s availability change that?
Ultimately, Bylsma had to go, because the entire thrust of these changes were diminishing returns in the postseason. Bylsma was 27-27 in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup way back in 2009. His teams were 1-6 in elimination games on home ice. The Penguins constantly fell to lower seeded teams.
You can read our take on “The Last Days Of Disco” here.
Yes, it can be argued that Shero didn’t provide Bylsma with the troops he needed to succeed. That’s fair. But the Penguins haven’t just lost in their playoff defeats – they’ve had apocalyptic flameouts. And by the third time that’s happened, the coach has to be the one to pay the price.
Now comes the real question for the Penguins: Who can improve on a guy who won 252 of 400 regular season games, sometimes through catastrophic injuries?