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Analysis: Kraken announce Dan Bylsma as coach. What’s his biggest task?

In this 2014 photo, then-coach Dan Bylsma talks to his Pittsburgh Penguins team during a timeout against the Washington Capitals.  (Tribune News Service)
By Shayna Goldman, Rob Rossi and Pierre LeBrun The Athletic

The Seattle Kraken announced Dan Bylsma as the organization’s coach Tuesday.

“Dan is a winner with a proven track record of developing both young and veteran talent and his leadership will help our team as we move forward,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said in a statement. “He knows our franchise, has worked with several of our NHL players, and we are excited to have him behind the bench and guiding our team next season.”

Bylsma has coached the Coachella Valley Firebirds, Seattle’s AHL affiliate, since 2022. His last NHL head-coaching experience stint came with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17 when his team went 33-37-12 in their second consecutive losing season.

The Kraken fired Dave Hakstol, the only coach in the franchise’s brief history, on April 29 after Seattle failed to make the postseason. Hakstol led the Kraken to one playoff appearance during his three-year tenure in Seattle.

Bylsma spent six seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins before his time with the Sabres. He led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship during his first season at the helm in Pittsburgh in 2009 and won the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award in 2011.

Bylsma has a 320-190 record as a coach with a .615 winning percentage.

Why is Bylsma a good fit?

Bylsma makes sense for the Kraken for a few reasons. First and foremost, he has had been with the franchise as the Firebirds coach for the last two seasons. There, he developed a relationship with young players in Seattle’s pipeline who are pivotal to its long-term success.

Bylsma’s coaching style seemed to click with those players, considering the Firebirds’ success over the last few seasons – a run to the Calder Cup Final last year, and a trip to the Western Conference final this year, that kicks off Wednesday.

Another reason for interest at the NHL level likely has to do with his championship experience with a 2009 Stanley Cup win in his first season with the Penguins. – Shayna Goldman, national hockey writer

How Bylsma prepared for thisBylsma took the Kraken’s AHL job because he desired another shot at running an NHL bench and “it (was) obvious the American League is the best path.”

He said he learned “a lot about today’s players” while as an assistant with Detroit following his short tenure as head coach with Buffalo. One thing he learned is “there’s more than one way to play” – a nod to criticism that his system grew stale in Pittsburgh after he won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009.

Bylsma still favors an attacking style that allows skilled skaters to make plays. He also still prefers wingers who can create space with speed and physicality.

But the stretch passes that were his hallmark in Pittsburgh – and never worked with Buffalo – are no longer the main element of his offense. His teams at Coachella varied their attack based on personnel, a signal that Bylsma is less rigid.

A former player who scrapped his way as an NHL role player, Bylsma’s strength with the Penguins was his enthusiasm and communication. He elicited buy-in from Sidney Crosby, who had some of his top point-per-game seasons with Bylsma as coach. – Rob Rossi, senior Penguins writer

What he needs to prove

Bylsma differs from other recycled coaches in that he hasn’t held an NHL head -coaching position in seven years. This isn’t someone who was fired a few weeks ago and then handed another chance behind the bench of another.

Since coaching the Sabres in 2016-17, he was an assistant in Detroit before shifting to the AHL. Still, the stakes are high, especially with the rapid turnover rate in the NHL.

The average tenure of NHL head coaches is around 2.3 years, the lowest of the four major leagues. Byslma, like any other coach, will have to show that an NHL head -coaching position is something he can hold. His track record in Pittsburgh, after their championship run, isn’t sparkling.

And his two-year tenure in Buffalo was flawed as well. So the big question will be what he has learned from those two experiences, as well as his time in different capacities over the last seven years, to make this one more successful. – Goldman

Bylsma’s relationship with Kraken

Bylsma has a strong relationship with Kraken associate general manager Jason Botterill, who held the same role in Pittsburgh when Bylsma was hired to coach its AHL affiliate.

Bylsma’s promotion to the Penguins in February 2009 sparked an in-season turnaround that ended with them going from outside the playoffs looking into winning the title that season. Botterill and Bylsma worked together until Bylsma’s firing in June 2014.

Buffalo hired Botterill as general manager during Pittsburgh’s 2017 Cup defense run. – Rossi

Seattle’s biggest need

The biggest task for Bylsma with the Kraken will be finding a way to bolster their offensive attack. Roster construction and a lack of elite star power up front have something to do with their underwhelming offense this year.

But some individual stumbles and the power play’s failings have fallen on coaching. So now with a head coach in the fold, the next question is who will fill out the rest of the staff in Seattle, as assistant Paul MacFarland who ran the power play was also let go with Hakstol. – Goldman