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Kraken will name Dan Bylsma as next coach, source says

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

Moments after another uninspired Kraken loss in Los Angeles in early April, about a half-dozen mostly younger players gathered outside their dressing room for a quick meetup with the franchise’s visiting AHL affiliate coach Dan Bylsma.

The players had all recently played for Bylsma, 53, with the Coachella Valley Firebirds and it was tough not to notice their enthusiasm that night as they exchanged loud laughs in a group while then Kraken coach Dave Hakstol stood only 30 feet away with the media somewhat awkwardly trying to explain his team’s subpar performance that night.

Whether Bylsma can generate better results with the current crop of Kraken players than Hakstol managed last season will be put to the test as the NHL squad on Tuesday morning will name him the second coach in the young franchise’s history.

A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed the hire but spoke anonymously because the team has yet to officially announce the move. Kraken owner Samantha Holloway and general manager Ron Francis will do just that at a news conference while Bylsma remains with the Coachella Valley squad as it prepares to face Milwaukee this week in their AHL Western Conference Final playoff series.

Bylsma has coached Coachella Valley the last two seasons after serving as a Kraken-hired assistant coach with the AHL Charlotte Checkers in 2021-22 when the NHL expansion franchise was splitting that affiliate with the Florida Panthers.

The hiring caps a monthlong search by the Kraken after Hakstol was relieved of his duties following the team’s failure to make the playoffs. The Kraken were believed to be pursuing Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour until he signed a contract extension with that club two weeks ago and looked at former NHL coaches Tod McLellan and Dean Evason, among others.

Having Bylsma already in-house was seen as a bonus given his vast knowledge of younger players such as Shane Wright, Ryker Evans, Tye Kartye and others expected to be with the NHL squad from the start of next season. His learning curve with the style of hockey Francis expects likely won’t be as steep, and Bylsma also is well-versed with Kraken assistant GM Jason Botterill from when the latter served in a similar front-office capacity with Pittsburgh.

About the only question mark as to whether Bylsma would be named coach was his wanting the job given the rather comfortable setup he had in Coachella Valley developing the team’s prospects outside daily NHL pressures. NHL coaches these days rarely last more than three seasons, and Bylsma will be joining the Kraken at a time the fourth-year franchise took a step back in season three compared to the playoff run its sophomore campaign.

Michigan native Bylsma appeared in 429 career NHL games as a winger and penalty-kill specialist with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He transitioned into a coaching career as an assistant with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Cincinnati in 2003-04.

While Bylsma won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 after taking over with 25 games to go in the regular season, he never again attained such heights despite a star-studded roster that included Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and others.

Bylsma was the fastest NHL coach in history to reach 250 wins and made the playoffs every season while staying on with Pittsburgh through 2013-14, but failed to do the same during two years with the rebuilding Sabres ending after the 2016-17 season.

 

At the time of his Buffalo firing, there were rumors Bylsma was at odds with a number of players including top young star Jack Eichel.

His impressive NHL coaching record of 320-190-55 includes one additional conference finals appearance with the Penguins in 2013. The following season, he matched his single-season high for victories by guiding Pittsburgh to a 51-24-7 finish but lost in the second round to a New York Rangers team that made the Cup final that year.

Bylsma was fired soon after when Jim Rutherford was hired as the team’s new GM.

Now a decade removed from his successful Penguins stints, Bylsma will take over a Kraken team where GM Francis faces increased pressure to improve the present-day on-ice performance while awaiting the arrival of a solid crop of draft prospects. Bylsma has already seen many of those picks firsthand in Coachella Valley, including Wright, Ville Ottavainen, Ryan Winterton, Jani Nyman, Tucker Robertson, Jacob Melanson and Logan Morrison.

The Kraken also parted ways with ROOT Sports and will launch their own television broadcasts on “free” Tegna-owned stations in a three-state territory this season, but will need an improved on-ice product to lure new viewers and fans.

They are also dealing with the loss of season-ticket holders that have jettisoned their packages now that their minimum three-year terms have expired. Attracting new ones will be heavily dependent on the team boosting its performance from a 34-35-18 mark last season that left them 19 points short of their previous campaign.

While Francis and Kraken mainstays Jordan Eberle, Jared McCann and Yani Gourde said an ESPN report of a serious rift between players and Hakstol was wildly overblown, it’s clear the team hopes Bylsma brings a different approach. The way the young Kraken players flocked to Bylsma for several jovial minutes that April night in Los Angeles after he’d made the two-hour drive from Coachella Valley to watch their game against the Kings from the press box showed they seemed to appreciate seeing him again.

Whether they’ll play for Bylsma with equal gusto will go a long way toward deciding whether Francis has made the correct move in forgoing an outside hire and sticking with what he largely already knows.

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©2024 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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