Is Fan Criticism of Dan Bylsma Warranted?

Amber Alexander takes a look at the criticism that has been leveled at Dan Bylsma by fans in recent days.

By Amber Alexander

It will be exactly 1 year and 8 months since Dan Bylsma was hired as the interim head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In that short amount of time, Bylsma has reached a “rock-star” status with players, management and fans in Pittsburgh and all over the world.

As fans we were on cloud nine, knowing that he had signed an extension to be coach of our beloved team for the next however many years.

It’s crazy how things can change so quickly.

Last season was a frustrating season because of the inconsistency the team had; winning one game, losing the next.

It was a word that we as fans hated.

But still, fans never turned on the coach, never blamed him for the inconsistency.

This season is different.

We are 15 games in with a 7-7-1 record and fans are already calling for coach to be fired.

Bandwagon much?

For those of us who were Pen fans when they were in the gutter in the ’05 season and the slump in the ’08-’09 season, we can all share a laugh at this.

The loss to Dallas set off a fire storm with the Penguin fan base that is shocking.

Everywhere you looked, they were taking bets on how many more “months” coach had left.

It’s definitely comical.

I was fortunate enough to have a question that I submitted about the topic to Penguins radio answered by that morning’s guest, Phil Bourque.

His response was straight to the point.

“Anyone who thinks that Dan Bylsma is going to be gone is out of their mind,” Bourque said.

He then went on to talk about the flack that Coach is getting and how hockey players use that as motivation.

I’m glad to see someone of Bourque’s caliber be blunt about the problems a team can face with its’ fan base.

It adds to the list of “How You Know You’re A True Fan.”

It didn’t help with the controversial article posted by Rob Rossi, which I actually enjoyed because it’s nice to see Sid become more of a leader day by day.

Rossi’s article and Crosby’s words were taken out of context. But at the same time, it’s still a controversial topic.

Sid made it clear that in order for Marc Andre Fleury to get his confidence back, he needs to play.

Coach made it clear that he has given Flower his chances and will continue to give him his chances but that he is going to ride the hot hand.

One thing that I have said about Bylsma is that he believes in his players, throwing Mark Letestu out as the third shooter in the shootout was outstanding.

He is definitely a player’s coach in that he has the calm demeanor to show that he is going to put his team down when they are losing.

At the same time, when a player, or goalie, isn’t playing up to par, he isn’t going to dodge the question in an interview.

We are seeing a new side to coach that I think is still maturing but by game 41, it will be full blown.

Back to the Coach’s decision regarding Letestu being the final shooter…

Fans initially thought it was a horrible idea.

Wonder what they are thinking now?


21 Comments on this Post

  1. Get off you high horse. People that want him gone aren’t limited to being band wagon fans. I’ve been watching since the mid to late 80’s and have never stopped watching (even during the GenX years).

    This team is infinitely more talented then the group of players MT inherited. However, games this year have left increasingly frustrated by the lack of defensive structure. It’s almost as if they’re trying to be the worst defense in the league (remember that quote).

    The problems that Dan has existed all last year, and I’ve seen no improvement. Malkin played like a stud under MT, and dud under Bylsma. Why? Fluery looked more confident with smaller more compact moves under by MT, but looks like he’s that same rookie that has infinite talent but overplays everything. Why can’t this team beat a trap team (they’ve gotten pasted when teams trap)? Why is there no accountability on the ice? Why does the PP seem to be even worse under the Bylsma than it was under MT?

    Think it’s pretty bush league that you glossed over a topic worthy of more discussion, and just decided anybody that doesn’t agree with you is band wagon. That’s some amateur hour stuff right there.

  2. Hey Kevin…

    Nice points in your comment… thanks for bringing them to light. As you said, it is a topic that does require more discussion and it is one that I may personally address at some point in the near future.

    As one of the writers here at the site, Amber is entitled to her opinion and she shared hers. That doesn’t make her am amateur or bush league. It did what it was supposed too…touched a nerve with you and incited some conversation. I am sure that she will pop in and deliver a response of her own as well… hopefully you two can exchange some ideas on the topic.

    I will also let you in on the fact that many in the Pittsburgh media feel the same way about this. Dan has been pretty Teflon to this point in many of their eyes. I have talked to a number of them before, during and following games who have made comments such as: “These guys better not get this guy fired.” They all love disco for the feel good vibe that he brought two years ago, not for what is happening right now.

    It is certainly going to be interesting to see how the situation plays out. Most of the players that were mentioned in your post are here for a number of years and we all know that it is always easier to get rid of the coach when you are trying to right a ton of wrongs…

    More later…


  3. Metz & Amber,

    I apologize for my little rant earlier, and I definitely understand what you’re saying regarding how the media feels about Dan. In making a somewhat personal attack on Amber’s opinion I was hypocritical by doing the same thing I disagreed with in her opinion.

    I just wasn’t happy that somebody like myself who thinks maybe Disco should go got labeled band wagon without the arguments being laid out. I understand Dan is great with media and great with players. That doesn’t mean he should keep his job because he’s good for sound bytes and doesn’t rock the boat. Heck people hated playing for Bowman 364 days year, but on that one other day they got their Stanley Cup rings.

    I really don’t want to return to the no-fun cautious MT style, but we can’t continue to play this run n’ gun style either. There has to be happy medium, and if Dan can’t achieve then bring somebody in that can.

    Last point, I’d like to make is that I’m not for dumping the coach just to dump the coach. I think the only way they make a move is if they’re still struggling in a couple weeks, and there is a sound candidate out there available ready to take over.

    Keep up the good work guys.

  4. Kevin,

    I understand that it can be frustrating not only for this season but even last season.

    Your first comment was more against me using the word “bandwagon” and i’m sorry if that offended you but the fans I am talking about are the ones taking bets on how many more months DB has and wanting to trade Geno now.

    It’s only been 15 games… we have A LOT more hockey to play.

    If anything we should remember how the Pens have overcome so much adversity in recent seasons.

    This article is based on those fans wanting DB gone.

    It’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it

  5. And about MT and how Flower played better under him as well as Geno…. we gotta remember that Flower won a Cup under DB… Geno was MVP under DB….

    So that argument doesn’t make sense.

    Also MT was fired because of his negative demeanor in a negative situation.

    One thing DB is is a coach who has a calm demeanor but like I said, when a player, or goalie, isn’t living up to their potential DB isn’t going to avoid questions and will speak his mind, as he should.

  6. I’m going to killed for proposing this, but here it goes.

    Yes, Flower and Malkin did win Cups and excel during that run under Dan. I think there was still a lot residual MT hanging around that during the rest of the season and through the run. I think at that point they hit that perfect mix of still playing MT’s defensive style, and Dan’s style of opening up the game a bit.

    During that run, the defense was still really strong which meant Fleury didn’t have to resort to his athleticism to save games. He was able to use short compact movements because the team had a definitive defense structure. Malkin’s case is much harder to make, and the best I can guess is that he also benefited from residual MT. Right now, many have accused Malkin of floating too much which a somewhat fair assessment. As a winger, he’s given a lot more leeway to float due to a lack of stricter defensive responsibilities. I think that Malkin was maybe more focused because MT gave him (and the rest of team) much more defensive responsibilities thus keeping him in the game.

    I also get slightly annoyed when people talk about Dan winning the Cup while forgetting all that MT did for the team. MT was saddled with Sykora, Whitney, and Satan. Bylsma had the benefit of not having to play those players, and the team got much stronger. They added Gonchar, Kunitz, Wild Bill, and Craig Adams.

    I just think given last year and starting this year there are a lot problems that symptomatic of coaching problems. Dan’s refusal to address these could very well be is undoing.

  7. Under MT they were 5 points out of playoff contention in February so that’s not really a good point.

    DB came in with a broken team and got them to the playoffs and the Cup.

    Tonights came was all on defense. Offense did all they could. BJ didn’t look sharp on some of the goals so be looking for Flower to start Friday night.

    And Geno played outstanding tonight even after getting beat up by Thornton and stinging his left knee again, so he is regaining his old form.

    MAF will be in net Friday and I see him coming up big.

  8. So you aren’t going to admit that Dan got a much better team than what MT had to deal with?

    Tonight was just symptomatic of every criticism I had of Dan. His run n gun style is atrocious. I promise you he doesn’t hold anyone accountable for the numerous breakdowns. This team cannot defend teams that set up offense from behind the net. The lets have D join every rush burned them yet again. Too many pinches at inappropriate times. With a two goal lead, they need to play defense and quit joining the rush.

    Also Malkin back at center (where he should’ve went immediately) looked great. He was constantly involved in the game which is why he looked great.

    If this game came down to defense, why didn’t Dan make adjustments when he got the lead. I think you give him another 9 games and likely look for another coach if things don’t change.

  9. Like Phil Bourque said yesterday, DB isn’t going anywhere. That’s end of story. Another 9 games?? Are you kidding me??


    DB will be this coach for this season they might change assistants but that’s it. I mean come on we have another 66 games left

  10. NOPE Morphine Dan is JUST GREAT !! His No System system is Revolutionary !! Not only does the opposing team have no idea what the system is Neither does his team

  11. Ah yes the Very knowledgeable Phil Bourque you might as well Quote Ron Cooke too, Sorry Amber but you are CLUELESS !!! This team is currently out of the Playoffs & have been a Barely above .500 team since last November. Had 3 days to “work” on the Defensive Lapses & played even worse

  12. I’m sorta with Kevin on this one… And yes, calling fans who want Byslma out bandwagon fans while saying that those of us who “were Pen fans when they were in the gutter in the ’05 season and the slump in the ’08-’09 season, we can all share a laugh at this.” rings a little like bush league to those of us who remember Gene Ubriaco (and Tony Esposito) getting ran out of town a few months into a season after leading the Pens to their first playoffs in a long time.

    Everyone like Bylsma, and he has earned the opportunity to keep his job this season unless things really go into the tank.

    The frustrating thing to all of us is the fact that the problems just don’t get better… Last season the power play was terrible and Mike Yeo was the scapegoat…. there were terrible defensive lapses, but we understood that losing Scuderi & Gill hurt and Shero went out and signed guys to fix that. But 16 games into this season, and nothing has changed.

    It just seems like no one is held accountable for mistakes. The defensive lapses are evident to everyone who watches these games, but nothing is every done about it. The power play “rover” experiment is a disaster, and while it looks like that isn’t in effect much anymore, was a terrible idea from the start… you take a guy (goligoski with bad hockey sense and nervous hands and make him the playmaker in the high slot?

    The team in 2009 had sound defense drilled into them by MT… so much that it sucked the life and fun out of the team. Bring in Byslma (and Guerin), and the floodgates on offensive are opened and the game is fun again… all that pent up emotion was let go, and Bylsma was the perfect fit at the time. They still had the sound defensive principles, but were having fun and playing loose.

    But Byslma has show in the last 100+ games that he (and his staff) can’t (or just won’t) make adjustments in their game… I get that they want to play their style “get to their game”, but at some point you need to react to what other teams are giving you or taking away. They do nothing to conteract defense systems… look at their record against NJ or how they were completely take out of the Tampa Bay game when they settled in their 1-3-1.

    Like I said, Bylsma has earned this season, and I can’t even think of someone available that would be a good mid-season fit, but if the problems so far this season don’t get any better, Shero has some decision to make in the off season. If a bunch of yahoos on hockey blogs can see these glaring issues, damn sure that great hockey people like Shero, Lemieux, Fitzgerald etc can see them as well.

  13. UMM Ryan if you think that Mario is going to shit away a year of the window to win SC’s because Dan has “earned it” you are clueless !!As you have said that in the last 100 games the pens are a barely above .500 team !!

    & Amber is CLUELESS!!! They didn’t win the cup with Bylsma’s System!! He only tweaked Therrien’s system !!

    He didn’t install “HIS SYSTEM” until training after the SC & they have been mediocre since then & he hired to Buffoons, he is obviuosly not an X’s & O’s guy & he SHOULD have hired an X’s & O’s Guy like Barry Smith

  14. 66 games is a lot of hockey, but if you get behind the eight ball early (while playing more games than the better part of the conference) then it’s going to be hard to make those points up.

    One last comment about the media’s feelings towards Dan. Dan seems like a great guy, and real open guy to the media and his team. While it’s great the media loves him and he accommodates them, I personally don’t care how nice/mean he is to the media. He is paid to coach the team and win hockey games. He isn’t paid to cater to the media.

    EvilPens has a point when he says ownership won’t stand for anything less than competing for a Cup, and sitting outside of the playoffs isn’t going to cut it. I think the roster turnover last year really allowed Dan to install his “system”, because he could teach the “system” the way he wanted to instead of having some of MT defensive soundness still in his game. Tonight they were down right embarrassing defensively.

    To provide even more fodder for this discussion, I’ll go as far to say as the Pens have hurt themselves by not ever having a formal process to find a new coach. Think about Edzo got canned mid season which meant MT was likely the only viable interim candidate. He ended up getting that team turned around in his partial year thus forcing the Pens hand to give a full year to see what he could do. He then went out and got them back into the playoffs for the first time in forever, and went to the Cup the following year. He struggled and was likely rightly canned mid season again providing a similar situation where Bylsma was really you only candidate. He went out and coached the team to a Cup which again forced the Pens hand, and now we are looking a potentially another mid season firing with no real candidate lined up.

  15. They’re 41-33-8 in their last 82 games. 90 points. Not a playoff team.

  16. I think it’s just the nature of Therrien and Bylsma being extremes at opposite ends of the spectrum. If all you’re feeding players are task masters followed up by good cops, they’re going to keep cycling through coaches because neither style has a long shelf life. Eventually, players are going to tune out the disciplinarian. Eventually, if they’re never held accountable for their shortcomings, they’re going to start taking advantage of the nice guy. I don’t think this group of players is unique in that way. That’s how these things go. Short term, I think they just need someone who will kick them in the butt a little and give them more structure. Long-term, ideally they’ll find someone in the middle, someone who’s not afraid to punish them for crap like tonight but someone who’s also not going to be riding them all the time. They don’t need a strict trapping system but they do need a structured system with attention to defense that still allows for offensive freedom. Bylsma’s style is just too far on the other extreme to be lasting. You’re never going to effectively lead by always being a nice guy, just like you’re not going to effectively lead by always being a jerk.

  17. The problem you have guys is you cant change for the sake of change here….

    There isn’t a suitable candidate out there at the moment who has the right balance as a coach for this team.

    Bylsma seems pretty set on his systems and that is fair enough but there is going to come a point in the season (pretty soon I would say) where he is going to have to adjust because it is not working.

    For better or worse I think Bylsma will be coach till the end of the season and then Shero will have a look at who is out there that will be a balance of MT and DB, because we do need a balance of that hard ass and the players coach.

    We have had the polar opposites and so far over the course of 82 games, it hasnt quite been right, been really close but not quite right.

  18. muffinarm

    I think it’s pretty evident that Blysma is in over his head here. He coached the Pens to a Cup only 18 months ago, but he had the benefit of Crosby and Malkin both playing out of their minds. He also benefited from being a player’s coach coming on the heels of MT’s reign.

    Ever since November of 2009 Blysma’s team has underperformed, with the exception of Crosby, across the board. It seems clear there is absolutely no defensive structure and the excuses of injuries and new players are wearing pretty thin. The Penguins certainly have their holes, but the product on the ice right now is way more hideous than it should be. The inconsistencies the Penguins have shown this year are not only not getting fixed, they are worse than last year.

    And the bandwagon thing – I remember the Penguins blowing game 5 to the Islanders in 1982 and the subsequent meltdown that ensued. Blysma makes me long for the days of Craig Patrick, Ubriaco and the first installment of Herb Brooks. At least with those teams you knew they were lousy.

  19. Guess what people; ever heard of “what have you done for me lately?” With the caliber of players we have this is ridiculous. Never shortens the bench; never makes adjustments; doesn’t talk to the officials to attempt to “buy” a call; allows and absolute piece of shit power play to continue without making changes; messes with the lines so much; and is the living definition of insane.
    Insane is repeating something over and over again with the hope of attaining a different result without changing anything to achieve that result. (kind of like banging your head agaisnt the wall)
    The start of the season looks very similar to the power play. It is INSANE not to change them both. Without some sort of change, we will only be futher living the definition of insane.
    — i undersatnd that it is early but lets not forget MT wasn’t much better and I’m fairly certain a different MINOR LEAGUE COACH from asscratchtoon could have come in and led the pens (or hung around for the ride) to the SC. The talent on the team is enough to make the playoffs, (maybe…. but not with this system without some tweeking…(and I mean coaching)) but that is not enough…. We need a true leader.

  20. Amber, the one thing that you can not defend is the fact that this team is playing poorly, and making glaring mistakes. The defense is given far to much latitude to jump in on the play. This has resulted in way to many chances going the other way, and has burned the Pens badly. This is a coaching issue. With that being said, I am not calling for DB to be fired. It is my hope that he and his staff can get this turned around.

    As far as the “bandwagon” comment in your article. I read in a previous article that you are 21 years old. I am sure you are a knowledgeable hockey fan as evidenced by your articles. Your are not going to win alot of people over with “digs” like that. Especially those of us that have been watching Pens hockey longer than you have been alive. The bandwagon label can be two way street.

  21. Yep Jamie !! I have been watching & going to Pens games since the Late 70’s Before Mario Back in the George Ferguson, Orest Kindrachuk, Ron Flockhart, Ron Stackhouse Era YEAH I AM A BANDWAGON FAN !! : /

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