Buffalo Sabres: Why Dan Bylsma Is an Excellent Hire


Buffalo Sabres fans can finally say they have a coach.

Last Thursday, the Sabres and general manager Tim Murray introduced Dan Bylsma as the 17th head coach in team history, succeeding the recently fired Ted Nolan, via NHL.com.

Bylsma inherits the reigning 30th-place team, the complete opposite of what he walked into when he took over the Pittsburgh Penguins a little over halfway through the 2008-09 season. That team was fresh off a loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final and found themselves beating those Red Wings in for the Cup later that season. 

So the test for Bylsma is transitioning from figuring out how to keep a team on top to how to build a team up from the ground.

But Bylsma is an excellent choice for the difficult task that lay ahead. 

Bylsma‘s Penguins were an offensive force, as one would expect when your roster includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Yet Bylsma clearly created a system that allowed Crosby and Malkin to be the offensive dynamos NHL fans know.

So what system will Bylsma be bringing to this young Sabres roster?

In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Bylsma stressed defense. He stressed that good defense leads to good offense and praised the young defensemen in the Sabres’ pipeline while at the same time saying they needed to defend better.

Bylsma talked to WGR 550 on Friday about how his staff makeup will reflect his wish for the young defensemen to defend better, saying he wants to hire a former defenseman to head the defensive corps. He even alluded to hiring a recently retired player, which has led to speculation that he may want to bring in a guy like former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. 

So if they’re able to turn the defense around, does Bylsma have the pieces up front to have as potent an offense as the Penguins did during his time in Pittsburgh?

Obviously, the Sabres do not have Crosby, but they will likely use the No. 2 overall draft pick on Jack Eichel, who has given every indication that he will be an elite forward in the NHL. There’s also Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons on the current roster, and Sam Reinhart is ready to compete for a full-time spot, too. 

Bylsma has made comments to SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman about potentially pairing Eichel and Kane together, but he also acknowledged their styles may not be a match. But even if they end up playing together or Kane sees more time with Reinhart or Girgensons, you’re essentially just pushing high-end talent down the roster.

In other words, there’s a lot of talent, and the Sabres may not currently have the two high-end guys the Pens had, but they could be a lot deeper up front than the Pens ever were, especially in a year or two. 

And that perceived depth is exactly what makes Bylsma such a good hire for the Sabres. Travis Yost of TSN wrote a piece last week that detailed how good Bylsma‘s Pens teams were without Crosby and Malkin. The verdict? They were still really good.

And the fact that the Sabres will likely have a deeper forward group—at least in a few years—means that Bylsma could be even more successful, which is likely the biggest reason he was the best choice available for Buffalo.

Now, that list does not necessarily include Claude Julien, who as of Monday afternoon was still the Boston Bruins‘ coach, and Dave Tippett, who may or may not have an opt-out clause in his contract with the Arizona Coyotes. Yet Julien wouldn’t lead many lists for the Sabres job anyway given his defensive style and ability to alienate offensive studs—see: Seguin, Tyler—and Tippett likely wouldn’t want to move from one rebuild to another. 

And Bylsma might have been a better option for the sole reason that he had a year off this past season. That may seem a bit odd, but in his latest “30 Thoughts,” Friedman highlighted Bylsma‘s motivation to scout the NHL this year, including the Sabres, whom he said he watched a lot of. 

That time off could be something that he uses to his and the Sabres’ benefit. 

Another benefit is the 44-year-old Bylsma‘s relative youth. With the New Jersey Devils hiring John Hynes (40), via Yahoo Sports, and the Detroit Red Wings seemingly set on Jeff Blashill (41) to replace Mike Babcock, Bylsma will be the fourth-youngest coach in the NHL. This may surprise some given the fact that Bylsma has been around for a while, but he will be given every opportunity to grow with this young team. 

So, overall, there will be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Sabres entering the offseason with extra draft picks and other assets to possibly use as trading currency and a bunch of restricted free agents Murray could be eyeing. But one thing that is certain is that the team is moving forward with Bylsma at the reigns, and he and Murray will try to captain this team through the growing years of the rebuild.


Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @mattclouden

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