It took a couple of months to figure it all out, but the Buffalo Sabres have found their guy behind the bench.
On Thursday, the Sabres made it official by making Dan Bylsma the 17th head coach in franchise history.
“The Sabres and their coaching situation has unfolded over a period of time,” Bylsma said. “As a coach sitting on the sidelines, I looked at that opportunity from a distance. The quality of players, the youth of the players coming into the organization and what they can be down the road, I looked at that for some period of time. And not until the last month or so was it a possibility to think about talking to the Sabres.”
“This has been the [opening] I’ve really looked at as an opportunity to develop with a team and an organiztaion, and to put a winning team on the ice.”
Bylsma was previously the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins from the 2008-09 season to the 2013-14 season. Bylsma finished his tenure with the Penguins organization with a 252-117-32 record, a Stanley Cup in 2009, and also a Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 2011.
After not landing a coaching job during the offseason last year, Bylsma took a year off to analyze the game, and try to understand the game better..
“I probably watched more hockey games than I really wanted to this past season, and I’m quite confident my wife thinks I watched too many hockey game this season,” Bylsma said. “But it has afforded me to look at the game from a distance, look at different aspects of the game, and grow as a coach. I’ve talked with pro coaches, been a part of some amateur coaching staffs this past year. Even in terms of how you play the game and what’s important in evolving as a coach, I’ve done a quite a bit of growing, and I hope I can bring what I have learned to the Sabres.”
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Bylsma and the Sabres agreed to a five-year deal to coach the Sabres during the years where the Sabres are expected to be the next-best young team in the National Hockey League. TSN’s Bob McKenzie has reported that Bylsma will be paid an annual rate in or around the $3-million dollar range.
The Sabres have been ranked by multiple media outlets as having the best prospect pool in the entire league. The Sabres drafted Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick last season, and the Sabres are likely to draft Jack Eichel with the second overall pick this year. But there is more than just those two players that Bylsma is looking forward to coaching.
“There’s a number of pieces of the Sabres that you’ve looked at the last year and watched them play,” Bylsma said. “The defenseman: big, strong, young… I talked to some coaches last year about playing against the Sabres, and they talk about that being an aspect of what they do have… The pieces that are already in place, and also the pieces that are going to be coming to the organization. We’re going to be getting some very good hockey players coming here. Ones that have been drafted already and turning pro, and some with the possibility of what future picks may be for the Sabres.”
“With Jack Eichel, having coached him at the World Championships, you have a chance to see a guy who is going to be an elite player. He’s got outstanding skill, and you see him play against a lot of NHL players. You saw him match up against Evgeni Malkin, Tomas Plekanec, other NHLers, and he stacked right up there with his skill and his size and his ability to play the game.”
In order to hire Bylsma as the head coach, the Sabres had to give up a third round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. That pick was said to be the Islanders third round pick, which could be Vancouver’s third rounder according to future considerations.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray feels confident that the Sabres are in a better place today with Bylsma behind the bench, but the improvement in this organization will continue throughout the offseason.
“We got better today,” Murray said.”We have got a long ways to go. We plan on getting better every day. He’s been through it as a player and a coach. To me, he’s a winner. He knows what it takes to get there, how to perform when you are there. There is a lot of lessons that he can offer to the young players… This is a big swing to the positive. We’ll work together on this.”
“He’s done something I haven’t done: he’s won a [Stanley] Cup. He can teach me about that experience, and he can teach the rest of the people in our organization so that we can walk around here and think and act like winners.”
It has been a long haul to get to where we are today, but the Sabres now finally have another piece to the puzzle on the path to rebuilding the team.
The next step of this process will be the NHL Combine, which begins next week at the HARBORCENTER, then on to the NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida from June 26-27.