Dan Bylsma couldn’t avoid speculation about his status as the Penguins coach in the days following Pittsburgh’s four-game pratfall against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, even in his own house.
Shortly after the Bruins swept the Stanley Cup favorites out of the playoffs last week, Bylsma’s son Bryan asked his dad if he still had a job.
“I would be lying to say that I was able to block all that stuff out,” Bylsma said.
Now he won’t have to.
The Penguins signed the second-winningest coach in franchise history to a two-year extension through 2016 on Wednesday, a very public vote of confidence after Pittsburgh’s quest for a Stanley Cup to bookend the one it captured in 2009 ended with four miserable losses to the Bruins.
“I have a very good coach moving forward that I want to lead this team,” general manager Ray Shero said. “I want to reward him with an extension that shows him and shows people that he’s my coach and I believe in him.”
It’s a belief Shero stressed was not shaken despite a fourth straight spring without a Cup for one of the NHL’s most talented teams. Assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden also will be retained after the Penguins decided it wasn’t time to change course following a regular season in which the Penguins posted the second-best record in the league.
Shero, who met with owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle earlier this week, was prepared to go to bat for Bylsma, who is 201-92-25 since taking over for Michel Therrien in February 2009. Turns out, Shero didn’t have to step up after Lemieux and Burkle told him they were fully on board with keeping Bylsma in the fold.
“They were 100 percent supportive,” Shero said.
Even if the Penguins are just 3-4 in postseason series since captain Sidney Crosby raised the Cup after beating Detroit in Game 7 of the 2009 finals. Pittsburgh has fallen to a lower-seeded team each time, though the fourth-seeded Bruins hardly qualified as a major underdog.
Boston didn’t play like one, never trailing as the Penguins were swept for the first time in 34 years. Most galling was a 6-1 defeat at home in Game 2 that changed the tenor of the series. Pittsburgh regrouped and played well in a double-overtime loss in Game 3 and a 1-0 loss in Game 4, pretty clear evidence Bylsma had not lost the dressing room.
He certainly didn’t lose Shero.
“We did some very good things over the course of the season,” Shero said. “We won the Atlantic Division championship. We won 15 straight games that put us in position to have home-ice [advantage].”
Those accomplishments and Bylsma’s solid relationship with stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin proved more powerful than the sting of disappointment. Malkin is entering the final year of his contract and the Penguins are intent on keeping him. Having the coach who helped turn Malkin into the league MVP a year ago certainly won’t hurt.
Shero understands the lure of blowing things up. It happens frequently in Pittsburgh. Bylsma’s 319-game run is the longest since the franchise was founded in 1967.
Bringing in a new face didn’t make sense to Shero, who pointed to the stability of franchises like the Detroit Red Wings as the key to being a consistent Cup contender. Besides, while the new deal brings a sense of momentary calm, it hardly assures a sense of long-term security. Therrien was fired halfway through the 2008-09 season even though he signed a three-year extension a few months earlier.
Bylsma called the extension “important” and in some ways a relief. Now he can head into the offseason trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.