Pittsburgh Penguins Would Be Crazy to Fire Dan Bylsma

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIApril 1, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins' Dan Bylsma, center, gives instructions to Matt Niskanen (2), and Sidney Crosby (87) during a time out in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks  in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 30, 2014. The Penguins won 4-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar

There's been a lot of chatter lately surrounding Dan Bylsma's future with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rory Boylen of The Hockey News examined the question last week and managed to come up with three reasons to fire Bylsma.

Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy called for his head last summer before pinning Team USA's crippling Olympic loss on the bench boss in February. Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir went as far as writing that there are actual rumors concerning the Penguins and their possible desire to replace Bylsma before the playoffs begin—a subtle but notable jump from pure speculation to something that could have some traction.

So should Pittsburgh cut the cord with the man that has been the guiding hand behind a Stanley Cup Final appearance and one Cup Final victory, two (soon to be three) division banners and 100-plus point seasons in every full campaign he's ever coached?

In a word: No.

In two words: Absolutely not.

In three: Are you nuts?

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 1: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Head Coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during the 2014 NHL Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 1, 2014 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For a man with more than 400 games of coaching experience at the NHL level, a tough patch of 10 games shouldn't be reason enough for a firing. A 3-2 loss on March 25 against the Phoenix Coyotes seemed to be a tipping point for some fans—something about a visible lack of effort—but trying to boil down Bylsma's value to the Penguins with such a small sample of games is remarkably shortsighted.

Since he was hired in 2008-09, his points percentage during the regular season is .672. Let's compare that to the last five winners of the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach and see how it stacks up.

(Note: Bylsma won the award in 2011, so we'll skip him and add in 2008's winner instead.)

PTS% for Last Five Jack Adams Winners (Career/Regular Season)
CoachNo. of Games CoachedPoints Percentage
Paul MacLean204.549
Ken Hitchcock1,232.604
Dave Tippett861.607
Claude Julien769.617
Bruce Boudreau510.663

Pittsburgh's bench boss doesn't tower above the competition during regular-season play, but his percentage is notably higher than that of everyone else besides Bruce Boudreau. The sample sizes of these five coaches varies, so it needs to be taken into account that it's tougher for Ken Hitchcock to raise his percentage due to a higher number of games coached.

In general, though, Bylsma has been every bit as good as the top coaches in the league over the last half-decade. In most cases, he's been better.

If you're on team Fire Bylsma, odds are you don't take issue with his regular-season coaching record, though; you're just not happy with how the Penguins have performed in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. The common and predictable chorus is that Bylsma is a great coach during the 82-game season, but when the playoffs roll around, his rate of success drops off noticeably. So much so that he should be relieved of his duties as Pittsburgh's coach right now.

Let's compare his track record as a postseason bench boss, then. Bylsma's coached 65 playoff games, going 36-29 in his career—or a .554 win percentage. How does that stack up when compared to the last five Stanley Cup winners?

(Note: Again, Bylsma has been removed and since Joel Quenneville has won two Cups in the last four seasons, Randy Carlyle's 2007 win has been included to make it an even five.)

Records/Win% of Last Five Cup-Winning Coaches
CoachPlayoff Record (Career)Win Percentage
Joel Quenneville88-44.540
Darryl Sutter72-67.518
Claude Julien54-42.557
Mike Babcock78-53.595
Randy Carlyle39-30.565

Sort of makes his reputation as a playoff choker seem silly, doesn't it? Randy Carlyle is incredibly embattled at this point, but there's no denying that the last four Cup winners who aren't named Bylsma represent the cream of the NHL's coaching crop.

He is right there, yet for some reason, fans and pundits want to see his head on a silver platter. There's this idea that he's been outcoached on several occasions since 2009. As per Wyshynski's take last summer:

There was a six-game win over the Ottawa Senators in 2010, before the upstart Montreal Canadiens ousted them in seven games in the next round, in a series in which Bylsma was outcoached by Jacques Martin.

In 2011, Bylsma was outcoached by Guy Boucher and the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Penguins in seven games.

In 2012, Bylsma’s Penguins lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in six chaotic games.

This noise reached a fever pitch following the 2014 Winter Olympics. The knock on Bylsma was that he was again outcoached and that he again met his fate while refusing to fight for favorable line matchups. That very well may have been the case in Sochi, but that doesn't and shouldn't have any bearing on his future in Pittsburgh.

Bylsma took the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Final last year before bowing out (admittedly, in a humbling fashion) to the Boston Bruins, but that's just as much a testament to one of the most sound defensive systems in hockey shutting down Pittsburgh's top forwards.

Did the Penguins Cup-up in a big way prior to the NHL trade deadline last year? Yes, but that was in no way a guaranteed ticket to the finals. It increased Bylsma's chances, but that's all. There's no entitlement in hockey. General managers do the best they can to put together strong rosters, and coaches do what they can to guide them deep into the postseason.

The heat has been on Bylsma in Pittsburgh since the Olympics, and that's asinine.
The heat has been on Bylsma in Pittsburgh since the Olympics, and that's asinine.Clive Mason/Getty Images

Bylsma has been successful more often than not, but the feeling is that he'd still be taking this much heat even if he had made it to the finals last year, and that's horse-and-buggy thinking.

The NHL is more ripe with parity than ever. Teams are closer together than they ever have been, and a quick glance at the battle to make the playoffs should make that clear. Despite 471 man-games lost to injury through the end of March, per Man Games Lost, Bylsma is going to take home another division banner and have another 100-plus point season under his belt.

A 4-5-1 record since March 15 indicates to those on team Fire Bylsma that he's lost the room. The squad seems visibly disinterested at times, but Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review seems to have a more rational explanation than "Bylsma doesn't have his finger on the pulse anymore":

Eight Penguins — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Craig Adams, Tanner Glass and Jussi Jokinen — are receiving significantly more playing time this season compared to last season.

Four of those, along with 19-year-old rookie Olli Maatta, also competed in two weeks of Olympic hockey in Sochi, Russia.

This leads Yohe to ask the right question: "Are some of the Penguins feeling fatigued because of playing more minutes than usual?"

It's the unseen and untraceable effect of injuries en masse. A few games with higher minutes than usual is fine and normal. An entire season of it, though? Wear and tear is at a premium in Pittsburgh right now, but that has nothing to do with Bylsma and his coaching.

The only thing he's done this year is manage to all but lock up second place in the Eastern Conference while having Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta as his top defensive pairing and nothing but the shadow of actual third- and fourth-line scoring depth from game one of the regular season. Bylsma isn't getting nearly enough credit for how well he's coached throughout this campaign.

For instance, Wyshynski thinks that Babcock should win the Jack Adams this year. Reason No. 1 on his list of reasons why? How he's managed to guide the Detroit Red Wings to a possible playoff birth despite the lack of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and so on.

Why should Mike Babcock win an award for guiding his team through injuries while Bylsma catches flack for his similar performance?
Why should Mike Babcock win an award for guiding his team through injuries while Bylsma catches flack for his similar performance?Paul Sancya

So let's get this straight: Fire Bylsma—a coach who's done the exact same thing and then some this season—ahead of the playoffs, but hand Babcock the Jack Adams as coach of the year? Get real.

Last season's coach of the year, Paul MacLean, was also given the award because of how he managed to get his team into the postseason despite three key injuries. Bylsma not only got his team into the playoffs, but he did so by a wide margin.

By the time the season is over, it seems likely that the Penguins will have accumulated more than 500 man-games lost to injury. That's insane, and so is the idea that firing Bylsma would have a positive impact on the Penguins at this stage of the season.

As Dave Lozo pointed out last week, Bylsma should be getting consideration for the Jack Adams for the yeoman's work he's performed in Pittsburgh. There will always be some corners of particular fanbases that aren't going to be happy no matter what, but the Penguins would not improve in the long term if Bylsma were to be replaced.

There's always talk about not wanting to mortgage the future at the trade deadline in favor of "win now" results. Firing Bylsma would be a knee-jerk negative reaction to success, and that simply doesn't make a lick of sense.


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