Seattle Kraken the right job at the right time for new head coach Dan Bylsma

The Seattle Kraken were the right job at the right time for new head coach Dan Bylsma.

After a rocky two-year run with the Buffalo Sabres, Bylsma admitted he needed to recapture a desire to coach in the National Hockey League again. Four years ago, it was not something he even envisioned he would want to do again. However, three years in the Kraken organization – first as an assistant with AHL Charlotte and the last two seasons as head coach of the Coachella Valley Firebirds – has made Bylsma eager for another go at the top level in hockey.

"I think my coaching journey over the last 3-4 years has led me to this point," Bylsma said at an introductory press conference on Tuesday. "Four years ago, I think I needed to discover the joy of coaching again and changing a little bit in establishing relationships with the players. And having done that over the past three years, it's led me to this wanting to be the opportunity that I took next. In the last few years in Coachella and how our teams played, how the players reacted to me, how we came together as a group has reignited my desire to be at the National Hockey League level."

General manager Ron Francis said the team spoke with around five candidates that were under serious consideration for the job. While Francis didn't reveal any of the other candidates he spoke to, the Kraken had been linked to former Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan, former Minnesota Wild head coach Dean Evason, Kraken assistant coach Jay Leach, and Boston Bruins assistant Joe Sacco through various reports during the coaching search.

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis (left), and team owner Samantha Holloway (right) flank new head coach Dan Bylsma as they pose for a photo in the locker room of the Kraken Community Iceplex in Seattle, Wash. after announcing Bylsma's hiring (Curtis Crabtree / FOX 13 Seattle)

"I'm not one for doing the interview unless I think it's a serious interview," Francis said. "We talked to probably five guys that I thought were serious contenders for the job. I have the utmost respect for all those gentlemen. There's a lot of good coaches out there, but as I said in my discussions and the conversations with Dan, and watching him work in Coachella Valley the last couple of years, the relationships he had with his players, the effort he got each and every night from his players, the way his teams played, you know, and having discussions with him and how he thought our franchise would be and moving forward and working with our players, it became clear that he was the guy that we wanted to lead us at this point."

The organization has had a front row seat to Bylsma's success leading the Firebirds over the last two seasons in Palm Desert. Coachella Valley lost in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals to the Hershey Bears last season, and have advanced to the Western Conference Finals to face the Milwaukee Admirals for the second straight season.

"The success that we've had in Coachella Valley with our Firebirds has been remarkable," Kraken owner Samantha Holloway said. "Two seasons in a row, deep into the playoffs. But it hasn't just been about winning, it's been about developing our players. And today that success directly connects to our future with someone who knows the young guys, but has also had success in the NHL at the highest level."

Bylsma was immediately set to return to Coachella Valley Tuesday night as he will finish the AHL playoff run with the Firebirds before sliding into the Kraken job full-time.

"I think what we've built in Coachella Valley with the community and the fans and the team is a large part of me being here today. So thank you to everyone and Coachella Valley," Bylsma said.

The Kraken will be Bylsma’s third job at the NHL level. He won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in his first season as head coach after replacing a fired Michel Therrien midseason in 2008-09. 

The Penguins would make the playoffs in all six seasons under Bylsma as head coach, with Bylsma earning the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach in 2011. Pittsburgh was unable to make it back to the Cup Final in Bylsma’s final five seasons with the team, with two first-round exits, two second-round exits and one loss in the conference finals. Bylsma was then let go by Pittsburgh after losing to the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2013-14 playoffs.

His two-year run with the Sabres was far less successful, as the team remained in the basement of the Atlantic Division with 7th and 8th place finishes. But Bylsma isn’t the only coach unable to succeed in Buffalo as the Sabres have gone 13 straight years without making the playoffs.

Nevertheless, the failed stint in Buffalo made Bylsma less eager to pursue NHL level head coaching jobs in the future. After three years as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, Bylsma took the job with AHL Charlotte with an eye toward being the head coach in Coachella Valley when that franchise debuted in 2022-23.

Bylsma feels he's progressed as a coach in the years since leaving Buffalo. The success with the Firebirds over the last two seasons has been energizing as well.

"Connecting with the players, coaching the players, developing the players, developing the team has been kind of where I think I've improved as a coach and what I wanted to improve as a coach. I think it can be a little bit difficult when you get to the National Hockey League to do that. And this time around it won't be," Bylsma said.

By taking the Kraken job, it allows Bylsma to return to an NHL bench with a team and facilities he already knows extremely well. He spent months in Seattle at Kraken Community Iceplex, both during NHL training camps with the Kraken, and as the Firebirds began their franchise, waiting for their new home of Acrisure Arena to be completed in late 2022. While he knows younger players like Shane Wright, Ryker Evans and Tye Kartye more extensively, he also has familiarity with the other veterans on the Kraken roster as well.

"It was heartbreaking, but he got within a Game 7 overtime goal of winning the Calder Cup last year, and again he's got them well positioned as one of the final four teams competing for the Calder Cup again this year," Francis said. "And I think if you look at Dan and talk to some of his players, there's a passion that he brings to the rink each and every day. He works and strives to build relationships with his players. And yet he's still firm with them, but I would say fair in his approach to doing that, and those are all traits we thought were important as we move him here to Seattle and work with our players here with the Kraken."

When the Kraken dismissed head coach Dave Hakstol last month, they allow relieved assistant coach Paul McFarland of his duties. Leach, Dave Lowry and goalie coach Steve Briere all currently remain with the organization and Francis said he's spoken with Bylsma about how highly he thinks of the assistants. However, Francis said that the ultimate decision on the coaching staff will be Bylsma's.

"I've talked to both Jay and Dave. I've talked to Dan about how valuable I think they are and what they can bring. Ultimately, he will have conversations with them and fill out his staff the way he wants to do it," Francis said.

Coachella Valley assistant coaches Jessica Campbell and Stu Bickel could also be under consideration for promotions as well. The Firebirds will need a new head coach with Bylsma's move to Seattle, and there is at least the one vacancy on Seattle's assistant coaching staff in need of being filled as well.

"Jay Leach and [Lowry] are individuals I'd like to talk with here going forward, and the potential of bringing in someone else to the organization as well to complement the staff, to complement the players, to complement myself as a coach," Bylsma said. "Jessica has been part of that conversation, Stu Bickel has been a part of that conversation and what they've done the last two years in developing the players down there. Tye Kartye and Ryker Evans is evidence of that and so they are a part of the conversation about going forward with the staff here."


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