What can we learn from Bylsma's previous coaching staffs?
Dan Bylsma is turning his attention to assembling a staff. What can his previous groups teach us about the coaches that he will bring in?
Dan Bylsma is through the press conferences and the media tour. Now he can turn his focus to assembling his coaching staff, which Tim Murray said he hoped would be completed before the draft. When trying to figure out what his staff will look like, it is a good start to begin with the staffs that he's had in the past. However, it's highly unlikely that many people from his staffs in Pittsburgh follow him to Buffalo, simply because they are already in other jobs.
When Bylsma first took over in Pittsburgh, he was still dealing with Michel Therrien's staffs. In his second year the entire unit was scrapped besides goalie coach Gilles Meloche. He would stay on the staff until he retired prior to Bylsma's final season with the Penguins.
Mike Yeo, now the Wild's head coach, moved up from Wilkes-Barre to join Bylsma. He would stay with the Penguins for four years, until accepting the head coaching job of the Houston Aeros.
Two of Bylsma's top assistants took jobs with other teams following his firing: Tony Granato and Todd Reirdon, in Detroit and Washington respectively. So odds are neither of them leaves to join Bylsma's staff either. Mike Babcock reportedly was interested in bringing Granato with him to Toronto, but few expect that the Red Wings would let him leave.
The biggest name on his staff was former head coach Jacques Martin, who was an assistant for Bylsma in his final season. Martin had made head coaching stops in St. Louis, Ottawa, Florida and Montreal and coached over 1,000 games, bringing plenty of experience to the Penguins bench.
It seems that there are no clear cut options for Bylsma's staff when it comes to who has coached under him before. We can still learn a lot about his style and potential candidates based on the type of people he's brought in before. He stated this week that he hoped to bring in teachers of the game. Who could that be? We brought back Jim Rixner from Pensburgh to talk more about Bylsma and his relationship with his assistants in the past.
1. What was the dynamic between Bylsma and his assistants? Did he control most of the plays or did he delegate that work to his assistants?
The dynamic was mostly very good, and very positive. Mike Yeo was Bylsma's assistant in Wilkes-Barre (AHL) and both were promoted together in February 2009 and worked well together. Yeo's gone on to Minnesota as their head coach, and though he takes heat at times, Yeo was a solid assistant coach. The next wave that had a lot of stability was Todd Reirden (PK, defense) and Tony Granato (PP, forwards). Bylsma and Reirden have known each other since they were at Bowling Green together as players. That would be a good example of Bylsma pulling an old friend, and a guy who had a pretty good NHL career to coach his defenseman. Granato had some head coaching experience, which was probably good for Bylsma to lean on as he learned the ropes himself.
Bylsma delegated power well, but there was no doubt that he ran all the practices and the head coach was often very lively during them, instructing players and even finer things like laughing with them, keeping it light. The main focus that I would emphasize would be stability/continuity. Under Bylsma the Pens bench was well-organized and had seemingly a pretty cohesive united front coming from behind the bench.
2. Most of Bylsma's assistants in Pittsburgh are now in other jobs in the NHL. The one name that really jumps out to me is Jacques Martin. How well did those two work together, and could you see Martin joining him behind the bench again?
Jacques Martin got shoehorned onto Bylsma's staff in the summer of 2013. After Bylsma got fired in May 2014, it was revealed by the usually tight-lipped and reclusive ownership group that Ron Burkle (aka the owner with the money) was ready to fire Bylsma in the summer of 2013. That would be the season the Bruins swept the Penguins, if you couldn't keep your Dan Bylsma disappointing playoff exits straight.
But GM Ray Shero didn't want to axe Bylsma and Mario Lemieux tended to agree with Shero. The trio of Burkle, Lemieux and Shero found a compromise: they would keep Bylsma but add an experienced, defensive-minded coach that Mario suggested (Jacques Martin) to join the staff. The hope from management (and, who knows if this was communicated to Bylsma at the time) was that Martin would to help the team adapt and be more flexible, and his insight would result in a better playoff result.
I'm not sure really how Bylsma handled that. Of course, he put on a brave face, never complained and seemingly tried to make the most of the situation. But they did rotate Martin a little - sometimes he was behind the bench but then they shifted him upstairs for "an eye in the skill" type input. Martin is 62 years old, and one got the sense he enjoyed not being under the microscope of being a head coach. He's still on the Penguins staff as a "senior hockey advisor" (which again, friend of Mario) but a coach is a coach. I would guess if he had the chance to be on a bench somewhere he would take it. Being as he wasn't a Bylsma choice, I don't know if the two would reunite. I suppose it could be possible, but I wouldn't consider it likely.
3. We've talked before about how Bylsma's system is rather complicated. Would you say Bylsma put a focus on people who have a similar style or system as him when it comes to picking assistants?
Certainly a similar style - one criticism of Bylsma's staff is that they always lacked the "bad cop" type voice, someone who would yell to get a point across. Between Yeo (when he was a young assistant and before he became more assertive) and guys like Reirden and Granato, those are more thoughtful, quiet personality guys, much like Bylsma can be himself. From what we have seen from behind-the-scenes documentaries like 24/7 and the Penguins "In the Room" show, even though Bylsma is intense -and can get as angry- as any NHL coach, he's not a "rah-rah" type guy, and nor really has anyone he's had on his staff.
One thing I found very interesting is almost as soon as Granato and Reirden were let go, they were almost immediately picked up by Detroit and Washington, respectively, and both were very well regarded in their new teams and roles for the jobs they did. Bylsma had a good staff, and a stable staff, so I would expect him to try to build something like that again. I would bet they'll probably have at least some connection to him (or USA Hockey). It will be interesting to see again, if Bylsma changes his ways and brings in more of an out-going, "bad cop" type assistant this time, or if he believes that isn't necessary and he can coach ‘em up as it stands.
4. The Sabres only have one person left on their staff currently, goalie coach Arturs Irbe. Murray said it would be up to the next coach to decide what to do with him. In Pittsburgh, Gilles Meloche was his goalie coach for most of his time but retired before Bylsma's last season. I think it's safe to say he's not coming back, correct?
Yes, old Gilles Meloche isn't going anywhere, and that's thankful for you Buffalo fans. Meloche was like a Pittsburgh lifer and a very hands-off coach. Calling him a coach even seems strong. As soon as he was gone and Mike Bales was brought in, Marc-Andre Fleury really stabilized and saw more consistency in his game, and I doubt that was a coincidence. I'm not sure what role Bylsma had in bringing in Bales, or if he was someone that the Penguins management had scouted or Fleury himself knew about and suggested, but it has paid off nicely for the Pens, he's the only coach that the team has kept around, and for good reason. I wouldn't be shocked if Bylsma keeps Irbe, assuming Irbe impresses Bylsma and they figure they can work together. Like most NHL head coaches, Bylsma would mostly leave well enough alone when it came to coaching goalies, since a lot of them don't think they have a lot of expertise in that specific area to give the correct coaching to such a crucial position.