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Dan Bylsma is the worst coach in the NHL

Savvy internet users, such as the base of loyal Pensburgh readers, may be fimiliar with the prose of a great blog called "Fire Joe Morgan".  The blog was run by regular sports fans (who happened to be brilliant television writers) that got tired of hearing sports journalists, like the namesake announcer Joe Morgan, make ridiculous statements.  So piece by agonizing piece, they broke apart articles and statements to show the utter ludicrousy of what didn't make sense, but got a lot of attention from the famous sources that spouted the misinformation. 

What you're about to see is a feeble attempt at that style, thanks to the analytic hockey website Puck Prospectus-- a place to find interesting nuggets and research -- which dropped a bomb last week.  They said Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is the worst head coach of an NHL team.

Ironically, most of the FJM criticism was started when "old school" folks like Joe Morgan dismissed actual stats to talk about "toughness" and "grittiness" as to why a baseball player may get on base or come through in the clutch.  What you're about to see is pretty much the opposite of that and just flies in the face of plain common sense.

Roll up your sleeves and let's take the jump, please, if you dare...


Entitled: the best and the worst, which went up on December 17th and has somehow eluded me until now (italics is their work, regular font is the response)..

Every year, coaches make good decisions and bad decisions.

You can just tell by this almost disclaimer of a statement we're gonna have a big one on our hands, can't you?

We've seen goalies start for longer than should have been expected, players incorrectly and correctly used in special teams situations, and we've seen skaters who have received too much or too little time on the ice.

We've seen this!  And then we sit back and monday morning quarterback after the fact!

Sometimes these mistakes comeback to hurt a team, while at other times they have very little impact on a team's record

Sometimes statements like these make no sense.  If a coach continually makes poor decisions and puts his team in a position to lose, why doesn't the team's record decline over a long period of time?  Maybe the mistakes he makes aren't really that egregious, now are they?

Best Coach

Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey Devils

Hard to argue this; Lemaire's been brilliant.  He's one of the game's finest minds and was installed to a team that won arguably the toughest division in hockey last season that sent four teams to the playoffs and hasn't missed a beat.  No bone to pick here, Lemaire's a great puppet-master pulling the strings in NJ on a perfect team for his system and style to flourish, since it has been doing so for 15+ years now.

Worst Coach

Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins

Yeah, that Dan Bylsma.  The guy who led a 10th place team to a playoff berth and a Stanley Cup winner before he ever got a training camp as an NHL coach.  In his first season as a professional head coach.  You know, the guy that's #1 amongst all coaches throughout league history in winning percentage.

Putting aside a hot stretch of five games from March 15 - March 25, Dan Bylsma’s world-beating Pittsburgh Penguins were a tepid 14 for 87 (16.1%) on the power play during their magical 18-3-4 run to close out the season, a poor performance masked by overall success.

Yeah, so aside from winning he had a below average power-play last season.  The first thing anyone thinks about in Bylsma's first season is his team's PP rate and not how the fact they kept winning kind of masked that.

16.1% was also the Penguins PP% under Michel Therrien in 2008-09, but that was without the contributions of power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar––Pittsburgh’s third best GVT per game––for all but two of those games.

The Penguins power play hit at the same rate without Bylsma as it did with him.  Another reason he's clearly a bad coach.

We can ignore the small sample size right

We could ignore more than just the sample, yes.

Actually, no.

Ok then, what else you got.

The star-studded Pens are even worse now – an unfathomable 29th on the man advantage in 2009-10, based on a dismal 18 for 134 (13.4%) success rate

That damn coach is just not scoring very much on the power play.  Surely all the failures of execution must be his fault, since the article has exonerated the star-studded talent that's actually playing with the man advantage.

In addition, the Penguins’ talent shines through despite Bylsma’s puzzling decisions on playing time, such as his continuing infatuation with replacement level Craig Adams (0.6 GVT in 30 GP, 12:09 TOI) while underutilizing superior talent such as Tyler Kennedy (2.6 GVT in 16 GP, 12:52 TOI).

Adams gets ice time, because he's killing penalties to the tune of 2:32 a night this season, on a Pens PK that's been ranked in the top 10 league wide all season.  Kind of difficult to generate goals when your role is to keep them out of the net. 

In terms of even strength ice-time, Adams is the 13th ranked Penguin forward with 9:13 a night.  Kennedy is 7th with 12:15 per night.  Both stats make sense, being as TK is a 3rd line forward and Adams is a 4th liner.  There's no infatuation, just a guy getting more minutes in a penalty killing situation.

Limiting Alex Goligoski (5.7 GVT in 21 games in 2009-10, equivalent to a 22.3 full season GVT) to only two playoff games in 2008-09 told you pretty much everything you needed to know about Bylsma’s abilities of talent evaluation.

Right off the bat, it's incredibly misleading to use Goligoski's 2009-10 stats to illustrate why he should have been playing in 2008-09.  It's as if if the stats don't play to their advantage for the time period mentioned.

Goligoski played 45 games as a rookie in the NHL last season, 44 of which came as an injury replacement for Gonchar.  Goligoski was re-assigned to the AHL on February 7th, a full week before Bylsma was hired as the new NHL coach.

Goligoski got in two games in the middle of the second round of the playoffs (again as an injury replacement for Gonchar) but Bylsma chose to use a Stanley Cup winning veteran like Philippe Boucher for 9 games in the playoffs, many of those nights when Pittsburgh dressed 7 defensemen.  The inclusion of Boucher was the right choice, as he gave solid minutes, suffered no mental mistakes that rookies are prone to.  And Boucher only played in 7 games that Goligoski didn't.

So then who should have sat? 

  • Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar were the #1 pairing and played well.  Goligoski couldn't have done any better than either one of them, especially since he isn't adept at killing penalties at the NHL level.
  • Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill were the shutdown pairing.  You can count on one hand the number of goals they allowed against Jeff Carter (46 regular season goals), Alex Ovechkin (56), Eric Staal (40) and Marian Hossa (40) scored while matched up against them at even strength, which the Penguins attempted to do any possible time.  [2 by AO, 1 from Staal, btw].
  • Kris Letang and Mark Eaton; both have a boatload more NHL experience and Letang had a great playoffs, even though he was hurt.

The answer is no one.  Alex Goligoski, given his inexperience at the NHL level, should not have played above any defenseman that Pittsburgh had.  They simply had better players, who were in a groove and used to each other's styles.  Though Goose surely has more skill and skating ability than guys like Gill and Scuderi, he didn't demonstrate their ability to play away from the puck.

Who’s to say they couldn’t have defeated the Capitals or Red Wings in fewer than seven games by maximizing the ice time of their best players?

Puck Prospectus has designated Kennedy (a 3rd liner with then 25 career NHL goals) and Goligoski -- who was 8th on the defensive depth chart as the Penguins "best players".  Instead the Penguins chose to maximize the ice time of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin.  You know, the players that were actually contributing the most goals and assists.

Put Bylsma as coach of the Wild or the Islanders, and his public perception would radically change.

Put Therrien back as the head coach and do the Penguins even climb out of their 10th place hole which had a 27-25-5 to even make the playoffs last season?  Also it's funny they cite the Wild -- where their best coach Jacques Lemaire used to be -- and he won exactly 0 playoff series in his last five seasons there.

So yeah, there's no doubt Bylsma benefits from the immense depth and talent found in Pittsburgh. That's a huge leg up on a lot of coaches around the league that don't have it.  At the same time, the team was no juggernaut when he arrived.

The Bylsma Doctrine, for lack of a better term has made all the difference.  Puck possession, cycle down low, outshoot the opposition, force them to take penalties, control the play.  That's the reasons the Pens are an elite team and those are not the aspects that a taskmaster like Therrien stressed.

The Penguins are the 6th best team in the NHL currently with  a 1.24 G/F vs G/A ratio.  They're 5th in the league in shots on goal, and 5th in the league in shots allowed, with the best differential in the NHL.  That's why they currently have (points wise) the 5th best team in the NHL as of right now.

Is the power play struggling?  You bet.  The "buck stops" with Bylsma, he's the head coach, but he's tasked special teams off to his assistants.  Should he look into imprinting himself more there?  Perhaps.

Dan Bylsma is a lot of things; the most winning coach in history in his brief career, a Stanley Cup champion and has navigated his club past the talk of Stanley Cup hangovers.  If that's the wrong, I don't want to see right.