Bylsma Will Take Sabres’ Reins

Bylsma brings smiling, winning to Buffalo.  Photo from post-gazette.com

Bylsma brings smiling, winning to Buffalo. Photo from post-gazette.com

If the wind just picked up on the shores of Lake Erie, it may have been the collective sigh of the city of Buffalo, as our team has finally locked down a head coach. Each ‘y’ is crossed and each ‘a’ is curved. The dotted line has been signed. There are no agreements in principle, no handshake, backroom, gentlemen’s word-is-my-bond deals. We weren’t leveraged for more money, we weren’t turned down at the last second. Much to the relief of fans everywhere, the Sabres have a head coach once again.

If this were a teenage romance film, we’d be the cocky guy who gets shunned and ends up taking the sensible girl to the prom. At the very last moment, we’d have a change of heart and realize that maybe this was meant to be all along. Thankfully for us, it seems that Dan Bylsma is all that (horrible pun intended) and Buffalo has found its diamond in the rough.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins poses after winning the Jack Adams Award during the 2011 NHL Awards at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort June 22, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV – JUNE 22: Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins poses after winning the Jack Adams Award during the 2011 NHL Awards at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort June 22, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

If you’ll recall, Bylsma took over a failing Penguins team late in the 2008-2009 season. The team went on to win 18 of the next 25 games and steamroll through the playoffs, bringing home the first (and only) Stanley Cup of the Sidney Crosby era. Bylsma is the fastest coach to 250 wins in NHL history, and 2011 winner of the Jack Adams award. Byslma’s success earned him the head coaching position for the 2014 USA Men’s Olympic Hockey team in Sochi, and while the team played strong in pool play and throughout the elimination rounds, they eventually finished fourth after a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Fins.

While the wait for a head coach seemed to take years, the time between now and the start of the season will be a veritable purgatory. Bylsma’s NHL success was defined by a team that was built around two superstars in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins experienced winning seasons despite the injury woes of their two leaders, but, aside from the 2009 Cup, never really repeated the ultimate success that the team should have been capable of. Questions remain whether these playoff failures fall on the GM or the coach, and it appears we may soon find out here in Buffalo.

There is no doubt that Mike Babcock was the premier coaching free agent of this offseason, but teams were definitely interested in Bylsma. At different times this spring, Bylsma’s name has been tied to the New Jersey Devils, and most recently, the San Jose Sharks. The Devils are now run by Bylsma’s former GM, Ray Shero, and the pair were probably hoping to repeat their successes with the Penguins. The Sharks are a team of underperforming superstars, and Bylsma’s history of getting the best out of those players made him a candidate for the west coast bridesmaids.

If free agents and trades fail, Irbe's ready to suit up.  Just in case.  photo from yahoo.sports.com

If free agents and trades fail, Irbe’s ready to suit up. Just in case. photo from yahoo.sports.com

The Sabres may not have the talent that the Penguins had during Bylsma’s tenure, but they are certainly headed in the right direction. Last year’s second overall pick, Sam Reinhart, has seemingly developed into a stronger, better player than the one we saw on the ice to begin last season’s campaign. While it may not have been true three months ago, it seems now that everyone knows what a great hockey player the Sabres will have in Jack Eichel. His performance at the World Championships is certainly turning heads in the hockey world, and tales of his maturity seem to be accurate. Whether Sabres GM Tim Murray and Bylsma can rein in newly acquired Evander Kane remains to be seen, but if the boys can handle him, the team will take a giant leap forward this season.

Buffalo’s roster is rife with young talent – both offensively and defensively. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most glaring question mark of the offseason is goaltending, and it also happens to be the most glaring question mark of Bylsma’s career. Former NHL netminder Arturs Irbe is the current Sabres goaltending coach, and the only coach to survive Murray’s icy scythe as he reaped the souls of last year’s staff. Hopefully, Bylsma does the right thing and keeps Irbe on – Irbe did a fantastic job with a handful of goaltenders that probably felt like Normandy Beach veterans after the shelling they took in the 2014-2015 campaign.

Another box has been checked off of the Sabres to-do list. There is a certain comfort in knowing, and now we know who will be behind the bench for the Blue and Gold next year. The coaching search has finally come to an end, and we can safely go from speculating about the Sabres Bench Boss to that late first round pick, which may be more fun, anyway. Welcome to Buffalo, Dan Bylsma. Here’s to the fastest coach to 500 wins.

Let's bring it home to Hockey Heaven.  Photo from nydailynews.com

Let’s bring it home to Hockey Heaven. Photo from nydailynews.com

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