Despite not being the top choice of the Buffalo Sabres to fill their coaching vacancy, Dan Bylsma is a good fit with the Sabres who signed him to take over their coaching duties for the fired Ted Nolan. Since Bylsma was under contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins through 2016, the Sabres are sending a 2016 third round pick their way.
Top coaching choice Mike Babcock agreed in principle last week on a contract with the Sabres and requested time to think it over. In the interim, the Toronto Maple Leafs offered the same deal to Babcock as the Sabres did, and Babcock decided to take the Toronto job.
Sabres’ general manager Tim Murray stated that Bylsma has always been high on his list of coaching candidates and first spoke to him about the position about a month ago.
Bylsma is the 17th coach in franchise history and will be taking over a franchise that has finished dead last in the NHL the past two seasons. He acknowledges the culture has to change to one of a winning attitude.
“The expectation for the winning culture and how we play is not going to change. And that’s going to start, starting today. And it’s going to continue as we go, as we develop this group.”
While coaching the Penguins in his rookie head coaching season in 2009, Bylsma guided them to the Stanley Cup title. Over his five plus seasons with the Penguins, Bylsma won a franchise-best 252 games and was the NHL’s 2011 coach of the year.
Babcock has a stronger resume than Bylsma, but the 44-year old earns instant credibility with his new team. Having coached the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, he will be counted on to help a young Sabres’ team that drafted center Sam Reinhart second overall last season and our expected to draft Boston University center and 2015 Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel with the second selection this year. Add in 21 year-old center Zemgus Girgensons, 23 year-old left wing Evander Kane, 23 year-old left wing Marcus Foligno, and 25 year-old center Tyler Ennis who led the Sabres in scoring this past season, and the Sabres have an extremely young and talented offensive core that should be around for a long time.
Bylsma has ties to Eichel as he was an assistant coach at the World Championships in the Czech Republic this month where Eichel was on the top-line for the United States team that finished fourth. Eichel definitely made an impression on Bylsma.
“He stacked up right up there with his skill and his size and ability to play the game. Jack’s going to be a good pick for anybody who does take him.”
Veteran wings such as captain Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson will provide excellent experience and leadership to this young team. The problems will lie in the net and with the defenseman. Swede Anders Lindback was acquired in a trade last year from the Dallas Stars for goaltender Jhonas Enroth. The 27 year-old is a hulking presence at net standing 6’6″, but has only played in 111 games in his NHL career despite making his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators during the 2010-2011 season. Other possibilities in net are Matt Hackett and Chad Johnson. Defensively, the Sabres traded away their best defenseman last year, Tyler Myers, to acquire Kane. A pair of 20 year olds, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadarov, along with 27 year old Mike Weber and assistant captain Josh Gorges who is 31 are the top defenseman. Goaltending and defense should be addressed in the draft and via free agency to mold this team into one that can be happy just making the playoffs next season.
With such a young team, Bylsma needs to be given time to help develop these players. Nolan was fired after two seasons which was unfair considering how the Sabres basically purged the team of their top talent in order to acquire high draft picks to rebuild. I believe Murray and team owner Terry Pegula, who also owns the Buffalo Bills and has deep pockets, will allow Bylsma ample time to change the culture and not hesitate to bring in top free agents that can help the Sabres rebuild. As a Sabres’ fan, the future looks promising!
And that’s as I see it!
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Internal photo courtesy of www.zimbio.com
Cover photo courtesy of www.thehockeywriters.com
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Scott D. Mikulski