Bylsma: Leader of the Sabres Uphill Climb

-Scott Goodwin

Dan Bylsma faces a steep task in the upcoming 15-16 Buffalo Sabres season (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)

Dan Bylsma faces a steep task in the upcoming 15-16 Buffalo Sabres season (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)

Dan Bylsma has a resume that does not disappoint. He is an individual that takes nothing for granted. His firing served as a way for him to step back and watch over the strategies used around the league. His path back into the North American hockey league required steady patience and optimism.

The youngest in the Davis family, Dan worked hard at every activity he took on as a kid. He and his older brothers spent long nights tending to the outdoor ice rink frozen by the cold temperatures of Grand Haven, MI. Early childhood shaped Dan into the competitor that led the Pittsburg Penguins to their 2009 Stanley Cup victory. The large property owned by the Davis family was constructed into an ice hockey rink and a nine hole golf course. Sweat, persistence, and an understanding that victory does not come without practice are early life lessons recognized by a young Dan. His drive to out-train and outwork the competition factored into his selection at 109th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1989 NHL Draft.

Dan comes to a team that hopes to drop the title of NHL bottom dweller. The Buffalo Sabres have occupied the basement for the past two seasons. The team accumulated an embarrassing 106 total standing points over the last two years. Promising off season moves have strengthened the team’s core. The addition of Jack Eichel, the coveted second overall pick of the 2015 NHL entry draft. The trading of questionable assets Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford made room for Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane. General Manager Timothy Murray equipped Bylsma with a skillful grinder in forward Ryan O’Reilly. The projected line combinations for this Buffalo Sabres squad will be much more threatening than those that took ice over the past seasons.

Dan took matters into his own hands by labeling himself as a student of the

Bylsma pours a celebratory beverage in Lord Stanley’s Mug in 2009 (Michael Sackett, USA TODAY Sports)

Bylsma pours a celebratory beverage in Lord Stanley’s Mug in 2009 (Michael Sackett, USA TODAY Sports)

hockey game. He spent his reaming time on the Penguins payroll preparing for his next job interview. Bylsma told Buffalo media that his wife was fed up with the amount of time he spent watching film. He did not enjoy any type of vacation away from the league, his passion would not allow it. Dan has an overall coaching record of 252–117–32, a very reputable record in a quickly changing hockey league. He shared his coaching knowledge in a very insightful interview with the staff at He descried the importance of “the grind factor” and the use of players that have this particular skillset. This gameplay is used when determining the best way to enter an offensive zone. The decision lies with the entering offensive personnel and the understanding of the opponent’s defensive traits. In this interview Dan explained:

“As a defenseman it’s easiest to play you face-to-face. The hardest defense to play is when you have to turn. So if you get a shot on net, the defenseman has to turn. If you make him go back for a puck, he has to turn. If you carry it in all night and he’s playing face-to-face, it’s the easiest defense you can play”

It’s clear that Bylsma is a fan of the dump and chase, it allows the offense to outwork and abuse the defense with pressure. In these high concentrated situations errors tend to occur when breaking out against a frenzy of opposing offensive pressure. Bylsma was featured in the HBO series 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic when he made a comment, “Let’s grind these bitches down here, eh?” after laying out the game plan. This young team requires a coach that has a highly regarded history and a drive to win.

I am sure that the Sabres top two lines will feature O’Reilly and Girgensons. Both forwards will lead an effort to battle defenses for the puck in the corners. The combinations and strategies that Dan puts into action during the preseason will allow him to judge his future use of contributing personnel. As a reminder the first game will be on September 21st. Buffalo will journey to the Excel Center to take on the Minnesota Wild and their slew of former Sabres.

Babcock has a quick change of heart when offered a $50 million contract by the Maple Leafs (Darren Calabrese/CP)

Babcock has a quick change of heart when offered a $50 million contract by the Maple Leafs (Darren Calabrese/CP)

Sabres fans suffered through a wild ride of interviews and breaking news regarding the head coach vacancy. Reports in mid-May hinted to Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock very close to finalizing a deal with the Sabres. At the time Buffalo had a great shot at either Conor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the entry draft. Mike’s success in Detroit stemmed from a dense pool of draft picks that were introduced to the NHL at the right time. Babcock’s ability to arrange a lineup gashed with injuries during a heavy point in the schedule is one his greatest strengths. He is an innovative coach that knows his players inside and out. Babcock’s choice of Toronto over Buffalo was a career decision that revived a rivalry that had entered a calm period. The choice turned Sabres fans against the prominent head coach as they felt betrayed by his last minute change of heart. Nationality and a deep pocketed desperate owner pulled the coach out of Buffalo’s outstretched hands. Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham tweeted: “Sabres livid for way Babcock handled past few days. Sabres so confident he was coming that they were prepared for Monday news conference.” This update acted as a hand that slapped Sabres fans in the face, fueling the embers of the geographic rivalry. The task of reviving the Maple Leafs will be a pivotal moment in Babcock’s path to coaching greatness. The Maple Leafs visit the First Niagara Center on October 21, 2015 in a match that will show which team is further in their development process.

Sabres fans should not fret over the fact that Babcock chose to coach the rival. Bylsma brings a sense of organization, a man ready to put his new system to the test. He is hungry to prove himself to his players, his boss, the fans and a league that has since doubted him. It’s very fitting that the Sabres will be represented by the underdog during their battle to the 2016 playoffs.



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