The fan base of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a fickle beast, and happens to be quite hard to please. We take for granted how difficult it is to even make the playoffs, let alone succeed against the best teams in the league. So its no surprise that every time the Pens have a setback the fans start calling for Dan Bylsma's head and a major overhaul of the franchise.
But is Bylsma as bad as the fans tend to think he is? How do the other coaches in the league compare? Who would be a good replacement? Let's take a look and find out.
Bylsma Era - 2009 to Present
If we look back at the entire 6 seasons that Bylsma has been coaching in this league we see that there have been 39 unique playoff coaches, with a very short list of coaches who took their team to the playoffs in each of those years. Joining Bylsma we have Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks, Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins, Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, and Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks. We also have Alain Vigneault as an honorable mention as he made the playoffs each year, but 5 of those were with the Vancouver Canucks while this year was with the New York Rangers.
Then we also have Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings who has only been Head Coach there for 3 seasons and managed to make the playoffs each time. We also have a couple of one hit wonders who have managed to make the playoffs in their lone season as HC: Mike Keenan of the Calgary Flames, Bob Gainey of the Montreal Canadiens, Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals,Craig Berube of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche. Everybody else had managed to coach their team out of playoff contention or got fired and replaced mid-season in one or more of their years as Head Coach.
But making the playoffs speaks of regular season success, and most fans would agree that Bylsma is one of, if not the best regular season coach in the league. The issue lies in the continued string of post-season failures, so we need to look a little deeper if we want to determine how he stacks up in that regard. All data is up to date as of Sunday morning, May 11th, 2014.
If we look at raw playoff Wins, Bylsma has 43, which is third overall behind Julien at 54 and Quenneville at 52. He has a fairly hefty lead over Babcock at 36, followed by Vigneault at 34, Sutter at 31, and McLellan at 30. All of those coaches other than Babcock and McLellan are still alive in the playoffs and can improve their numbers. In addition a distant 8th Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks at 23 is still alive and can attempt to close the gap with a solid playoff run. Boudreau also has the distinction of coaching all 6 seasons, and the only year he did not make the playoffs was when he swapped from the Capitals to the Ducks.
Of course what do the raw Wins matter if you are losing nearly as often? So let's see where we stand in W%. Bylsma is now #6 in the league at 56.6%. He was bested by Sutter at 63.3%, Julien at 61.4%, Quenneville at 61.2%, Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning at 61.1%, and Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils at 58.3%. However, both Boucher and DeBoer put up those impressive numbers through one successful playoff run. Boucher was HC for 3 years and only made the playoffs once, managing to make it to the Conference Finals. DeBoer was HC for 6 years and only made the playoffs once, making it all the way to the Cup Finals. But one lone Cinderella season followed by a string of missed opportunities takes away from the impressiveness of their achievements.
Only two other coaches have a playoff record above .500. Babcock at 51.4% and Peter Laviolette of the Flyers at 51.1%. However, that is a considerable drop off from Bylsma's numbers, and Laviolette only made the playoffs in 3 of the 6 years as HC, the most recent one being because he was fired and replaced early in the season. We also have a couple who have broken even. Vigneault has an even .500 and tonight can either go above or below depending on the outcome of the Penguins game. Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens is another one who is at .500 and has the chance to either go above or below depending on how this series goes, but unlike the others he has only coached 3 of the past 6 seasons and made the playoffs in 2 of those. Then we have Hunter who also finished his lone season with an even .500.
The other 28 coaches have finished under .500 in playoff W%, including Boudreau who has an opportunity to improve his .489 if the Ducks continue to win. Mike Yeo of the Minnesota Wild is the only other coach still in the playoffs, currently sitting at a .438 in his 3 years as HC, 2 of which he made the playoffs.
Of course that just tells us how many wins and who won the largest percentage of games. What about the number of series won? Who has managed the most success going deep in the playoffs? Once again we have Bylsma at #3 with 8 series won, behind Quenneville at 11 and Julien at 10. Close behind is Sutter with 7, who has a chance to tie and even surpass Bylsma depending on how the rest of this season plays out. Then Babcock and Vigneault at 6, with Vigneault able to make some headway depending on the outcome of the Rangers series. Then behind them we have Laviolette and McLellan with 5.
Behind them then is Boudreau, DeBoer, and John Tortorella of the Rangers who have won 3 series each. Boudreau could climb closer depending on how the team does this post-season. With 2 series wins each we have Boucher, Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators, Jacques Martin of the Canadiens, Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes, and Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes. 1 series win each we have Therrien, Yeo, Hunter, Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators, Randy Carlyle of the Ducks, and Ken Hitchcock of the Blues. The remaining 17 coaches have not won a single playoff series in the past 6 years.
Post-Cup era - 2010 to Present
Of course most people complain that Bylsma inherited Therrien's team in 2009 and that we should ignore the results that year. Although if we are doing that, then shouldn't we do the same thing for Scotty Bowman, since Badger Bob Johnson continued to oversee the team until his death in November 1991. If we use the same logic that people apply to Bylsma when he inherited Therrien's team, that means we can look at Bowman's following season in which the Pens had a huge upset loss, lost the respect of his players, and was chased out of town as proof of the ineptitude of his system. I don't buy either narrative, both Bylsma and Bowman earned their Cups, but it makes as much sense to complain about Bylsma inheriting Therrien's team as it would to claim the Pens only won the 2nd Cup because they were still Johnson's team.
However, we are still going to look at the data from 2010 to present, which now drops us to 33 unique coaches. We still have the same list of 6 coaches that made the playoffs for 5 straight years: Quenneville, Julien, Bylsma, Babcock, McLellan, and Vigneault. As before we also have Sutter who made the playoffs during all 3 seasons he coached, as well as now Therrien who made the playoffs in each of his 2 seasons in Montreal. And of course the one hit wonders Hunter, Roy, and Berube. Another honorable mention to the Kings organization, as the managed to make the playoffs for 5 straight seasons, although it was with 2 different coaches.
Taking out the 2009 series drops Bylsma slightly in raw wins, he is now down to #6 at 27. He is behind Julien at 47, Quenneville at 43, Sutter at 31, and both Vigneault and McLellan at 28. All of those guys except McLellan can continue to climb the chart depending on how this year's playoffs unfold. Close behind Bylsma then are Laviolette with 23 and Babcock with 21, while Tortorella and Boudreau are further down at 16, although Boudreau has the opportunity to continue to improve that number.
Bylsma remains #6 when looking at W% at 51.9%. He is behind Sutter 63.3%, Quenneville 63.2%, Boucher 61.1%, Julien 61.0%, and DeBoer 58.3%. But as mentioned above, Boucher and DeBoer put up those numbers through one hot playoff year and followed it up with failure to make the playoffs. The last coach to finish over .500 was Laviolette with a 51.1%. Then finally we have McLellan, Therrien, and Hunter at an even .500. As pointed out above, a number of those coaches can improve or worsen their totals depending on how this year's playoffs turn out.
Of the remaining playoff coaches, Boudreau leads with a 48.5%, followed by Vigneault at 48.3%, and lastly Yeo at 43.8%. In addition, Babcock as one of the coaches that made the playoffs in each of the 5 seasons has just a 44.7% W%. 23 out of 33 playoff coaches were under .500, so it appears to be quite an accomplishment to win more than you lose in the playoffs.
The biggest hit comes when taking away the number of series won in 2009. Since 2010 Bylsma is just #7 with 4 series won. He is behind Quenneville and Julien at 9, Sutter at 7, and lastly Laviolette, McLellan, and Vigneault at 5. All of those except Laviolette and McLellan have the opportunity to improve their numbers depending on how the remainder of the playoffs works out.
Trailing behind Bylsma are DeBoer, Babcock, and Tortorella at 3. Then at 2 we have Boucher, Boudreau, Trotz, Martin, and Tippett. And lastly with 1 series win each we have Therrien, Hunter, MacLean, Yeo, and Hitchcock. Boudreau, Therrien, and Yeo ave the opportunity to improve that depending on how they finish in the playoffs this year. That leaves us with 13 coaches who have not won a single playoff series in the past 5 years.
So there you have it. There are 2 coaches who are certainly more successful than Bylsma, Julien and Quenneville, but Boston and Chicago are not going to be getting rid of them anytime soon. Sutter also looks as if he will be more successful, but we need a few more years to ensure he can maintain that level of success, and LA is in no hurry to part with him. McLellan and Vigneault are about even with Bylsma, and likewise there is no reason to assume the Sharks or Rangers are looking to part with them. Babcock has been trending downward and has even less post-season success than Bylsma. On can make the argument for Laviolette to join them as the 2nd tier of coaches, but his regular season shortcomings are a bit of a concern, as it doesn't matter how successful you are in the playoffs if you don't even qualify. Everybody else appears to be at least another step down, so chances are replacing what Bylsma has done is not as easy as many fans would have you believe.