PITTSBURGH – When Dan Bylsma took over as interim coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in mid-February, they were barely over .500 and nearly out of the playoff race.
One remarkable turnaround later, Bylsma earned himself a new contract and the right to drop “interim” from his job title. The Penguins officially named Bylsma their head coach after his arrival sparked Pittsburgh to an impressive 18-3-4 record over their last 25 regular season games and a first-round playoff series win.
“I’m humbled,” Bylsma said. “I’m excited. And I look forward to continuing to lead our hockey team.”
Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Bylsma’s work ethic, knowledge and ability to relate to the players made the contract extension an obvious move.
“He accepted the challenge of being our interim head coach in February and made this a very easy decision for our ownership and management,” Shero said.
Bylsma, who retired in 2004 after nine seasons in the NHL as a right wing with Los Angeles and Anaheim, and the team reached an agreement on a multi-year contract on Monday night.
Terms were not disclosed.
The decision to retain Bylsma isn’t a surprise after he led the foundering Penguins to a dramatic turnaround that netted them fourth place in the Eastern Conference after a poor start.
A year after reaching the Stanley Cup finals, Pittsburgh stumbled to a 27-25-5 start this season.
They were stuck in 10th place in the conference and seemed to have little going for them other than a pair of dynamic scorers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It all changed when the team fired Michel Therrien on Feb. 15 and replaced him with Bylsma, who had been coaching their American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and leading them to a 35-16-1-2 record.
The Penguins kept their momentum heading into the playoffs, beating the Flyers four games to two to advance to the second round.
Though they entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the East, red-hot Pittsburgh has emerged as a dangerous team. The Penguins will play the Capitals in the conference semifinal after Washington beat the Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 Tuesday night.
“The future is bright for hockey in Pittsburgh,” Bylsma said.