Dan Bylsma is back in the head coaching game, and back where he started.
The 11-year, award winning veteran of a National Hockey League bench will take his resume to the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the top development and American Hockey League affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, named head coach of the expansion AHL franchise.
Bylsma, introduced to the media at a Tuesday morning news conference, takes his diplomatic and by the results, effective coaching philosophy into a place where he will be the caretaker of homegrown talent in the Kraken farm system - brought in mostly by drafting and free agency.
"One of the reasons I became a coach is because I didn't want to be just yelled at, screamed at, and sent on a mission by the head coach," said Bylsma. "I thought there was a lot more to helping the players, helping the team and getting more interaction with the players. Getting their opinion, getting them bought in, and working toward that."
"That's where the game has gone."
Bylsma pledged the top priority of player development in his introductory conference call, and is actually making his move to the desert-based California squad for his soon-to-be second year with the Kraken organization.
He was named assistant coach ahead of this season for the Charlotte Checkers, serving as a Kraken minor league outpost for prospects in a shared, "dual" affiliation arrangement with the Florida Panthers. By helping the Checkers win the Atlantic Division title in a "rental" type of year for an affiliation partner, Bylsma played a key role in elevating the game of three Kraken prospects in the AHL.
Center Alexander True finished as Charlotte's leading scorer with 42 points. Cale Fleury's 33 points in 58 games paced all Checkers defensemen, and goaltender Joey Daccord's dazzling .925 save percentage in 34 games finished tied for second in the AHL.
All three players earned call-ups to the NHL under Bylsma's watch, who also played a long game and has opened a door to get back into the professional head coaching circle.
"Talking with Ron last season about the opportunity to coach in Charlotte, it was on my mind," said Bylsma. "I'm not sure it was totally on Ron's mind. We needed a coach for the development of the players in Charlotte last season but knew down the road, we'd be going to Coachella and that (opportunity) would be there."
"I wanted to prove to Ron I was the guy to be the head coach of Coachella."
With the work now proven, the move gives the start-up Firebirds a proven, experienced coach with a Stanley Cup on his resume, along with a nine-year playing career in the NHL to steer development of homegrown talent.
Can it work in a new, destination AHL market with a state-of-the-art venue that’s near completion, and essentially, a new and exclusive team out of the box looking to develop their own culture? The bet is on experience.
The Kraken are betting on a man with a robust track record to lead the next generation of talent on the fast track to the NHL.
"Having a guy with Dan's pedigree, he's coached at all levels," said Kraken general manager Ron Francis. "The AHL, NHL, World Championships, he's won a Stanley Cup, he's been coach of the year in the NHL. We're feeling fortunate to have someone like Dan to lead that charge and help our development of the young players."
Bylsma, who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup title in 2008-09, will make his first AHL head coaching stop in 12 seasons since working for less than a season with the Penguins farm team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, following two years as an assistant coach for Todd Richards.
Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien, fired in Pittsburgh with two months to go in the regular season, went 18-3-4 with the Penguins in the remaining 25 games, and lifted the Stanley Cup after winning an epic seven-game series over the Detroit Red Wings.
Over a run of eight years as head coach in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, Bylsma, who also served as head coach for the United States at the Winter Olympics in 2014, went 320-190-55 and has a career .615 points percentage as a head coach at both the NHL and AHL level. At the end of the 2010-11 season, he won the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the NHL and finished his tenure in Pittsburgh as the franchise all-time leader in coaching wins (252).
Bylsma, let go by the Penguins after six seasons, coached the Buffalo Sabres for two years and then for four years as an assistant coach for the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings, before his return to the AHL last season in Charlotte under a Kraken affiliation.
Francis said the Firebirds will start the AHL season in Seattle, based out of Kraken Community Iceplex as they await completion of their multi-million dollar Palm Desert home in December, a 9,918-seat venue christened as Acrisure Arena. The Firebirds are expected to relocate to Palm Desert no later than November 1, according to Francis, where they will settle into their new adjacent practice facility and team headquarters working space.
The season, though still four months away, can't come to Bylsma soon enough.
"My wife and I are looking forward to getting out to the Valley as quickly as we possibly can," said Bylsma.
"It's not going to start until the fall, but (we) feel like it should start tomorrow."