Lyle Kossis: Why Dan Bylsma Would be the Perfect Coach for the Panthers

Editor’s Note: Lyle Kossis of Pensburgh took the time to write why he believes Dan Bylsma, former head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, would be an ideal fit for the Florida Panthers vacant coaching position. Be sure to follow Lyle on twitter: @LyleKossis

News broke this week that Dan Bylsma interviewed for the head coaching job with the Florida Panthers.  Dale Tallon was quoted as saying that Bylsma “interviewed strong,” and that he was being seriously considered for the job.  With Bylsma so close to the head coaching job in Florida, I’d like to take a look at why he makes sense for the Panthers.

When Bylsma took over the Penguins in 2009, they had just come off a Stanley Cup Final appearance and had expectations to win the Cup that year.  The problem was that Michel Therrien—seemingly against all odds—had coached a team led by Crosby and Malkin to 10th place in the Eastern Conference.  That put them outside the playoff picture and in a position that was unacceptable to management.  So they took extreme action and fired Therrien (a coach they just signed to a three-year deal) and replaced him with Bylsma.

One of the best things Bylsma did is that he made wholesale changes to the system and got the players to buy in almost overnight.  One of the ways we can tell this is by looking at the team’s possession totals.  In 2007-2008 under Therrien, the Penguins were one of the worst possession teams in the league, sporting a 46.51% FF in score-close situations, which bested only three other teams.  The Penguins went on their playoff run thanks to hot goaltending and high shooting percentages, but the problem persisted the following year.  The Penguins were again an awful possession team under Michel Therrien in 2009, and they were drowning because the percentages didn’t break in their favor.

Bylsma’s changes were extreme—as were the results.  As Nick Emptage has noted, in “terms of increasing puck possession, the best coaching changes since 2007 would be Michel Therrien to Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh (46.3% Fenwick Close to 52.6%).”  To put those numbers in different terms, a 46.3% Fenwick Close would place the Penguins among the five worst teams in the league that year; their jump under Bylsma to nearly 53% would place them comfortably in the top six.

Aside from getting his message through quickly and winning the Stanley Cup (no big deal), Bylsma instituted a system that saw the Penguins routinely finish among the elite teams in terms of puck possession.  They maintained this superiority through 2011-2012, coming back down to Earth in the lockout-shortened season when the team had to adjust to life without Jordan Staal.  But this year they were back on the right track in terms of puck possession until the team went on a historic run of injuries.

Some Panthers fans could worry that Bylsma only looked like a good coach because he got to coach elite talent.  But in 2010-2011, the Penguins lost Crosby and Malkin for the second half of the regular season and had neither of them in the playoffs.  Yet the Penguins still finished the year as a really good possession team, and finished 4th in the conference in terms of playoff seeding.  The Penguins were also victimized by injuries in 2012 and 2014, but that never stopped Bylsma’s team from qualifying for the playoffs.  Apart from Crosby and Malkin, Bylsma knew what he was doing.

The Panthers have elite talent of their own, of course. With Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathan Huberdeau, Bylsma will have plenty of players to shape as time goes on.  The mandate will no doubt be to turn this team (and those players) into possession monsters who can start reliably out-scoring and out-possessing the opposition.  Fortunately, Bylsma seems to get through to the young guys.  Early on his tenure with the Penguins, Bylsma was known as a high-energy guy, a persona which meshes well with young talent.  That article quoted Jordan Staal as saying that “[e]very morning it seems like [Bylsma’s] got about 10 cups of coffee in him. He’s an exciting guy to meet in the morning.”  Staal had more to say:

“I’m usually not a morning guy, but with him, every day seems like a new day and there’s something new to learn. He takes ownership to do that and get everyone else on the same page and be excited about learning and getting better. It’s exciting to drive to the rink and know that’s what you’re coming to.”

The ideal scenario for the Panthers is that this level of enthusiasm carries over and begins to permeate a team that has not found themselves in playoff contention as often as they would have liked. With young players on their roster—a la Jordan Staal in 2010—the potential is there for Bylsma’s message to get through.

Some folks might still be apprehensive because Bylsma was fired, and the lingering question would be: why hire a coach who just failed?  I don’t think that that should be a concern.  Bylsma is not a toxic former coach like John Tortorella, who seems to destroy the offensive potential of his teams and bring the Rangers (and now the Canucks) clearly out of contender status.  I think that Bylsma was largely a victim of a less than ideal roster and practically unattainable expectations in Pittsburgh.

Those issues are less of a concern in Florida, though, which means the scene is set for the Panthers to become a force in the Eastern Conference.  If they select Bylsma as their next head coach, they’ll be well on their way.

Dan Bylsma Watch: Panthers Interview Former Penguins Head Coach

As soon as the Pittsburgh Penguins announced the hiring of new General Manager Jim Rutherford, all eyes and ears of Panthers faithful were waiting for the inevitable news that Dan Bylsma has been relieved of his coaching duties.

For days, it has been rumored that the Florida Panthers may have interest in the Stanley Cup winning coach and the winningest coach in Penguins history. Since day 3 of his firing, Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel reported that Tallon reached out to Bylsma.

Here we are on day 6, and Darren Dreger finally confirmed what most of you had hoped for.

Whether it’s Bylsma, Marc Crawford, Gerard Gallant or Ron Wilson, if all goes well, look for the Panthers to announce their new head coach sooner rather than later.


We welcome your comments and feedback!

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2014 Draft Profile: Aaron Ekblad

If there is one player in this draft that has had a lot of buzz around his name since the start of his junior career it’s Barrie Colts defenseman, Aaron Ekblad. Only the second player in OHL history to earn exceptional player status (the first being New York Islanders Captain John Tavares) and the first defenseman to earn the honors, Ekblad was able to enter the OHL as a 15-year old. Ekblad was selected first overall in the OHL draft by Barrie and went on to win the Emms Family Award as the Ontario league’s rookie of the year. Ekblad’s point production rose steadily each year and was a key component to Barrie’s playoff run in 2012-13 where he compiled 17 points (7-10-17) in 22 postseason contests, finishing with a  plus-11 rating.  2013-14 has been Ekblad’s personal best where he reached 53 points (23-30-53) in 58 games, was named captain of both the Colts and Team Canada’s U-18 team, and was one of two 2014 draft eligible players (the other being forward Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice) selected to play on the Canadian World Junior team.

As the old adage goes, “you can’t teach size” and boy does Ekblad have plenty of it, at 6’4, 215 lbs, he’s an imposing young man. When watching his game it’s hard to believe with his size and strength that he’s 18 years old, a trait that Jeff Marek alluded to when asked about Ekblad on Panther Parkway Radio:

“You look at him and he looks like he’s 25″, said Marek. “There’s still a lot of room for Ekblad to grow and that’s the scariest thing.” Ekblad’s offensive game has developed quite nicely this season as he has begun to round out his game a bit more than in the past when he played more of a stay at home game. “There’s a new skill set that’s emerging now with Aaron Ekblad, in that he’s become more of an offensive threat. He’s always had a bomb from the point on the power play, but now he’s on the rush and that’s scary.”

With the Florida Panthers owning the first overall selection in the 2014 draft  there is a lot of talk of the Panthers trading down. A lot of the reasons for teams looking to swap places with the Panthers could very well be to select Ekblad. After Ekblad there is a huge dropoff in defensemen. In an extremely offense-heavy draft, Ekblad shines brightly as the premiere blueliner and could command a nice return for the Panthers in exchange for the pick. But whether the Panthers or any other team select Ekblad first overall, prepare yourselves for the “defenseman who are chosen first overall never live up to expectations” debate.

NHL Central Scouting has listed Ekblad as the number two ranked North American skater in their final rankings, behind only forward Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs. While this may be the NHL’s scouting list, many other scouts have Ekblad as their number one and he could easily find himself selected with the first pick. When asked about what Ekblad could bring to his future team,  Ian Altenbaugh of had this to say about Ekblad:

” Aaron Ekblad is physically ready to play in the NHL right away. He’s 6’4, 215 pounds, and is a very smooth, strong skater. He is one of the most polished 18-year-old defensemen to come around in a long time. He has a disruptive stick, good anticipation, and a generally good hockey IQ. He is steady in the neutral zone and excellent at transitioning the puck from defense to offense. He also plays with a mean streak and has the size to back it up. He kills penalties, quarterbacks the powerplay, and is considered a great leader on and off the ice. He’s a high-achieving academic student as well.”

Ekblad may come with some hype but, not quite as much as last year’s top defensive prospect, Seth Jones. Jones was almost unanimously the number one on every scouts list. Jones was looked at as a “slam dunk” prospect (and not just because his father played in the NBA), yet Ekblad has not been met with that kind of reception, which could help or hurt his case.  While it all can be seen as speculation right now and many factors go into a player reaching full potential, Altenbaugh feels that the ceiling for Ekblad could be a “top-pairing defenseman in the mold of Victor Hedman, Alex Pietrangelo or Shea Weber.” When asked about how some scouts have seen Ekblad as a possible top-four defenseman instead of a top-two, Altenbaugh replied:

“When it comes to players who have played in juniors since they were 14-15, there tends to be a lot of tape on them. Scouts have seen him enough where his game has been thoroughly dissected, to the point where the flaws might appear more severe than they really are. Ekblad is about as complete a defenseman as an 18-year old can be.”

When it comes to the Panthers pipeline on defense, names like Alex Petrovic, Jonathan Racine, Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Josh Brown  and newly signed d-man, Mackenzie Weegar come to mind as potential members of the Florida blueline in the future. But while Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Dylan Olsen are counted on in the present, the team lacks a defenseman in the system that can do it all and excel in any situation.

“The Panthers have some talented forwards in their pool and NHL lineup, and while they have a few high quality defensive prospects on their way in Matheson and McCoshen, none are at the caliber of Ekblad.” said Altenbaugh.

In the 2014 Coaches Poll, Ekblad won the hardest shot, best shot, best offensive defenseman, best defensive defenseman and went on to win the Max Kaminksy Award as the OHL’s top defenseman.

A man’s frame, a laser from the point, the ability to move the puck and keep it out of his own end, Ekblad could be a very solid choice for Florida if they decide to draft him. Ekblad possesses many qualities that could help Florida, but then again he possesses qualities that could help any team.  The Edmonton Oilers have been in the rumor mill for a possible trade partner for Florida, as they severely lack defense and look to add a potential star blueliner like Ekblad to their team. Dale Tallon has leverage and will likely take advantage of it. If Tallon is unable to find a suitable trade partner or doesn’t get face value for the pick, Tallon has a chance to take not only the best blueliner in his class but one of the better defensive prospects in the last few years.

HEIGHT: 6’4″
WEIGHT: 215 lbs.

Regular Season Playoffs
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/- GP G A Pts PIM
2011-12 Barrie Colts OHL 63 10 19 29 34 -5 13 2 3 5 6
2012-13 Barrie Colts OHL 54 7 27 34 64 29 22 7 10 17 28
2013-14 Barrie Colts OHL 58 23 30 53 91 7 9 2 4 6 14


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Cincinnati Cyclones Headed To Kelly Cup Finals

Last night, the Florida Panthers/Nashville Predators ECHL affiliate, Cincinnati Cyclones were crowned the Eastern Conference Champions and are bound for the Kelly Cup Finals. In a thrilling overtime finish, which included the series clinching goal scored by Panthers prospect, Jonathan Hazen, the Cyclones were able to wrap the series up against the Greenville Road Warriors (New York Rangers affiliate) in six games. Hazen’s game winner was his sixth of the postseason and his second of the contest, earning him first star honors. Hazen has 14 points (6-8-14) in 18 games.

Panther prospect, Josh McFadden finished with 6 shots on goal and an assist on Hazen’s first goal of the night. Cyclones goaltender, Rob Madore, a darling of the 2013-14 Panthers Training Camp starred for Cincinnati stopping 28 of 30 shots on the night and finishing as the game’s second star.

Aside from the Panthers prospects in this game, there was a little more South Florida flavor involved with Rangers prospect and Coral Springs, FL native Andrew Yogan playing as the opposition. Yogan was the game’s third star and recorded a goal and an assist and finished the postseason leading his team in points with 18 points (7-11-18) in 17 games.

The Cyclones will face  the Alaska Aces (Calgary Flames) for the Kelly Cup.

Drew Shore Dazzles Hockey World in Belarus


Drew Shore thought it was a bit odd when he received the above fortune cookie at Belarus’ lone Chinese dining establishment last night, but that didn’t stop him from fulfilling said prophecy.

Warning: The goal you are about to watch may cause heavy breathing, loss of consciousness and in the case of German defender Constnatin Braun: death.


Need a minute? Need to sit down? Need to reflect upon your existence? Go ahead, I have time.

Drew Shore ladies and gentlemen.

Despite a thrilling Stanley Cup Playoffs and obtaining the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft it’s been a long off-season for Panthers fans so let’s talk about this goal in frame by frame detail.

  • Shore bears down on Braun from the leftwing looking to the right side with his stick elongated in an attempt to lure the defender to play the pass.
  • Braun bites as he has no chance as Shore dips his shoulder and brings the puck between his legs, past a helpless Braun, to his backhand. (note how Braun doesn’t even have time to get his stick in position. He tries to interrupt Shore’s deke with an outstretched knee)
  • Shore then drives the net as German goalie Danny aus den Birken prepares for a poke check.
  • Shore reads it all the way by switching to his forehand, evading the pokecheck, and sliding the puck 5 hole.
  • Shore scores a really, really, really nice goal.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I look forward to Shore performing feats like that in Sunrise.

Credit to @myregularface for the GIF

Mike Matheson Will Return to Boston College Next Season

On Tuesday afternoon, Boston College’s official website reported that defenseman Mike Matheson will return to the BC Eagles for the 2014-2015 NCAA season.

Matheson, 20, was selected 23rd overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2012 NHL Entry draft in Pittsburgh. The rugged blue-liner just completed his sophomore season with the Eagles, where he compiled 21 points (3G-18A-21P) and a +18 rating through 38 games. Over the past 2 seasons with Boston College, Matheson has led all defenseman in scoring, while manning their top power play and penalty kill units.

Adding onto his accomplishments, this season, Matheson was voted to Hockey East’s First All-Star team, and was named ACHA’s Second Team All-American.

From Boston College’s Official Site:

“We are very excited Michael Matheson has decided to return to Boston College for his junior season”,  head coach Jerry York said. “Michael’s talents and leadership will play a significant role in developing the strong core Boston College hockey has in place for the future”.

While many had hoped to see Matheson don the silver and black next season for the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, fans can take solace in knowing that Matheson will gain yet another year of experience, and further continue his development into an NHL ready defenseman.


We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

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Panthers Kickoff 2014 Offseason With Draft Lottery Tuesday

Just days after the final game of the 2013-14 regular season, the Florida Panthers are set to begin their first offseason under new ownership headed by Vincent Viola. Though the team hopes to solve most of their roster problems in free agency, the first important event of the 2014 offseason kicks off tomorrow night with the annual NHL Draft Lottery.

Set to begin at 8 p.m., ET, the Panthers will have an 18.8% chance at winning this year’s top pick after finishing 29th in the NHL with a final record of 29-45-8.

Given that no team can slide more than one spot back of their finishing position, the Panthers are guaranteed at least a top-three pick in this year’s draft regardless of what luck they may or may not have tomorrow night.

The chance to win this year’s first-overall selection for every lottery team is as follows:

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The Future of the Florida Panthers Blue Line is Bright

With one game remaining in the 2013-2014 regular season, the Florida Panthers find themselves in all too familiar territory. Last season, the Panthers finished dead last in both Goals Against per Game (GA/G) and the Penalty Kill (PK%), and this year has been no different. Currently ranked 27th in GA/G, allowing 3.20 goals per game, and 30th in PK%, Dale Tallon and the Hockey Operations staff may have their work cut out for them this summer, whether it be via Free Agency or trades.

Fast-forward to the very near future, and the Panthers may have something they’ve longed for since Tallon was hired as the General Manager of the Panthers; flexibility to spend and depth on defense.

Though the Panthers have struggled offensively in recent years, drafting centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad will finally give the Cats the stability up the middle for the first time since the Jokinen era. While drafting these mammoth centermen was the correct choice for any GM in Tallon’s position to make, the current blue line still leaves something to be desired.

Luckily for Panthers’ fans, Tallon has done a superb job of drafting Grade A defensemen during his tenure as the Panthers General Manager. While Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen remain the face of the Panthers young defensive core, there are a handful of reliable defensemen in the Cats prospect pool just waiting for their chance at the big show.

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Florida Panthers and the Role of Leadership in the NHL

The leadership debate has been kicked into high gear recently in the hockey world and everyone who’s everyone is throwing in their two cents (5 cents if you’re from Canada). Leadership is a tricky notion in any realm to define and quantify, but in the sports world leadership is more like an omnipotent force than quantifiable trait. The inspiration for this piece comes from Steve (Dangle) Glynn, who debates the quantities/qualities of leadership in this video:

Steve questions whether or not leadership is even real, if it’s tangible based on goals, hits, motivational speeches etc. It’s a great video; I’d check it out if I were you.

So what is it? What is leadership?

To re-hash and expand on what Steve said: Is leadership defined by production? Fighting? The notion of clutch-ness? (That’s a whole other can of worms)

Is it defined by being vocal in the locker room? On the bench? On the ice?

Is it by example? Putting your body on the line to help your team win? Attending charity events? Being available to the media no matter the situation?

Is it how you interact with your teammates? Patting them on the back when they do something right? Teaching them when they did something wrong? Calming them down when they’re making mistakes?

Is it just being old? How many cups you’ve won? How many years you’ve been in the league?

To me, leadership is a mixed bag. It’s a combination/selection of everything I listed above and more.

You can sense leadership in sport (and life, really) at any level, from the professional grade to the beer league. There are people who others gravitate to for inspiration, support, guidance or security. There are people who possess those unquantifiable quantifiable qualities that make people gravitate to them.

The term “Leadership” is used so often these days so it’s not insane to see why it’s been watered down and questioned as much as it is being. When a team wins or loses, part of that result was due to what we call leadership. Players cite their captains, alternates, goal scorers, grinders, goalies, coaches etc. as people who were impactful on the game’s outcome. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and are defined by the many variations of leadership. There’s not just one answer, there’s not just one quality, leadership is an orchestra.

When it comes to a team’s captaincy group, I have no doubt that whoever makes the decision takes all of these qualities into account. Technically a team only has captains and alternates so that there is a designated group of people to talk to officials. Obviously that has evolved into what we have today. Being a captain or an alternate is seen as a prestigious honor.

We rank the best captains; we debate if a player should be captain, we even put more weight on a goal when it was scored by a captain or when captains fight! Obviously leadership matters in the NHL and whatever you quantify leadership as it has an impact on how you watch the game and how the game is played.

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Dancing To Support The Children’s Miracle Network

I normally don’t like to use this website as a platform to ask for donations, yet when something this important comes along, it’s difficult to resist.  My daughter, who some of you know as Alexandrea, Alex or @LilMissRatTrick is in her second year at the University of Florida.  She’s doing exceptionally well in her studies, enjoying life away from home, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

In a few days she’ll be participating in an annual event simply called Dance Marathon at the University of Florida, which raises money for the The Children’s Miracle Network.  The link explaining what it’s all about can be found by clicking here.

She has also set up a personal page where you can make donations towards her goal, which can be found by clicking this link here.

This is her description of the event:

This year I will be participating in an event that has grown into another one of our great Gator traditions – Dance Marathon at the University of Florida. Dance Marathon is a yearlong commitment in which thousands of students come together to raise funds and awareness for Children’s Miracle Network. Each April, more than 800 of these students stay awake and on their feet in the Stephen O’Connell Center for 26.2 hours to show their support for the patients at Shands Children’s Hospital at UF, right here in Gainesville.

This cause is very important to me personally. Each year my sorority raises money for our national philanthropy, Children’s Miracle Network. As a volunteer at Shands Hospital in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Emergency Department, I know exactly what this organization is fighting for. One hundred percent of the net proceeds from Dance Marathon go toward purchasing state-of-the-art medical equipment, finding research grants and educational programs, and supplying toys and other items for children to help make their stay at the hospital more enjoyable. In addition, donations fund the search for cures for some of the most common yet incurable diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis and cancer. It’s For the Kids!!

I know that times can be difficult for some, but if there’s any way that you can make a donation, no matter how small, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  Alexandrea and I both thank you in advance for any donation that you can make.



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