UNIONDALE, NY– Hide the records and the Islanders and Penguins appear to be very similar in organizational philosophy.
Before the laughter starts, consider that the Penguins play in an arena even older than Nassau Coliseum and depend on the NHL draft instead of big-ticket free agent items to compete. Also consider that both teams fired coaches and turned to unproven candidates despite enjoying success with the veteran behind the bench.
But that is where the similarities end, mainly because the Penguins still employ Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin and the Islanders have no young forwards anywhere need All-Star status. Yet Pittsburgh made a big splash yesterday, firing Michel Therrien nearly eight months after he guided the Pens to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Dan Bylsma was named the interim coach and he will make his NHL debut this afternoon against the Isles. The Islanders made a similar move in the summer, let go of Ted Nolan last season and replaced him with former AHL coach Scott Gordon, who has gone from successful minor league coach to a man struggling to get wins from a young and injury depleted lineup.
The 38-year-old Bylsma’s last season as a player came right before the lockout. A nine-year NHL veteran, Bylsma (pronounced BYLE-smuh) served as a right winger with Los Angeles and Anaheim from 1995-2004. He appeared in 429 NHL regular season games and also played in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final with Anaheim.
Ray Shero, the Penguins general manager and executive vice president, said in a statement the move was designed to give his team a spark. Despite claiming perennial MVP candidates in Malkin and Crosby, the Penguins enter the matinee five points behind the eighth-place Sabres for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berth.
“We believe we need a change in direction and, with 25 games remaining in the regular season, our goal remains to finish strong and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Shero said. “Dan Bylsma is one of the bright young coaches in the game and has done an exceptional job as the head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.”
Therrien’s dismissal comes after the Hurricanes fired Peter Laviolette despite the coach leading Carolina to a championship in 2006. Two coaches who have led clubs to the final round the past three seasons are now unemployed, showing the quick hook owners and front office executives have in trying to salvage a struggling team.
“I’m a passionate person and energetic person,” Bylsma said to reporters. “I believe you need commitment, passion and a high energy level. That’s how I approach life. We have a great challenge that we should enjoy. We should bring all that energy to the rink (Monday).
Pittsburgh’s opponent today also has endured a rotating system of coaches. Laviolette 77-62-19-6 and led the Islanders to the playoffs twice in his two seasons in Uniondale. Those postseason appearances came after a seven-year drought, though
the Isles still fired him along with Steve Stirling, interim coach Brad Shaw and Nolan. From 2001-08, all four of those Islander coaches posted a winning percentage of .500 or better and still was shown the exit.
Gordon has coaxed the Islanders still competitive in games. But the team claims an NHL-low 38 points with a
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16-33-6 record. Despite the axing of previous coaches with far superior records, general manager Garth Snow insists Gordon’s job is safe and that the Isles will have patience with its self-described youth movement. The Islanders are in contention for getting the No. 1 overall draft pick and will look to snap a five-game losing streak when the puck is dropped at 2 p.m.[audio: https://www.nysportsday.com/wp-content/uploads/islanders-doug-weight-injury-wrap.mp3]