The Pittsburgh Penguins sit 1 point out of the Atlantic Division lead and the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. Without Jordan Staal for the first half of the season. Without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the second half of the season. Most hockey pundits had the Penguins written off as a borderline playoff team that would be lucky to get the 8th seed – not within striking distance of home ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Penguins’ personnel has changed but the coaching staff has remained the same and Dan Bylsma and company have continued to preach the same message regardless of the players in the lineup.

For comparisons sake, take Mike Richards off the Flyers for the first half of the season. Take Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter for the second half. Do the same with Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin. Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos. Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, and Daniel Sedin. Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau. Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg. David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Milan Lucic…

I think you get the idea. I think it is safe to say that most of these teams would be golfing next week if they had had to endure what the Penguins and Bylsma have gone through.

Background


Bylsma took over a talented but unmotivated Penguin team 2 years ago and turned them into a Stanley Cup Champion.

He came in and preached hard, physical play at both ends of the ice. Puck possession in the offensive zone to limit the opposition’s scoring chances as well as aggressive play in all 3 zones of the ice.

After a disappointing end to last season, this year’s team was re-energized and poised to make a run at the President’s Trophy and another Stanley Cup ring… until injuries to Crosby, Malkin, and other contributors up and down the lineup dashed those dreams for fans and hockey writers around the NHL.

Bylsma never saw injuries as an excuse to pack in the season and prepare for next season. He continued to expect the same compete level from his team as well as the same production and the players responded by grinding out wins that were certainly not pretty but were wins nonetheless.

To have the Penguins qualify for the playoffs with all the difficulties they have faced, Bylsma should have earned a nomination for the Jack Adams Trophy. To be in a position to win the Atlantic should see him win the Jack Adams Trophy.

ESPN’s LeBrun and Burnside say Bylsma.

David Schoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail picks Bylsma.

Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy says Bylsma as well.

Competition

  • Alain Vigneault: Any team as dominant as the Canucks deserves a nomination. Vigneault has the top PP, best GAA, 2nd best goals scored, 2nd best PK, and by far the best goal differential in the NHL. His defense has been decimated with injuries yet still continued to win. Canucks star power should not affect vote.

  • Guy Boucher: Boucher not only looks like a James Bond villain, he also engineered a huge turnaround this season for the Lightning. He instituted a trap style game with a deadly counterattack from St. Louis, Stamkos, and Lecavalier. If his defense and goaltender were as dynamic as his forwards, he could be the favorite.

  • Barry Trotz: Trotz manages to get the best out of his players no matter what. He has no stars outside Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne but his teams continue to win. If he had an offensive star or three, his teams would be Stanley Cup Contenders each season. He also has a very limited budget for players but he certainly makes the most of what he has.

Pros for Bylsma

Bylsma has had tons of exposure over the past few seasons – first winning the Stanley Cup on a Cinderella run then through the HBO Special 24/7. Do not underestimate the effect 24/7 could have on the vote. All voters have seen Bylsma’s personality and coaching style in action at an unprecedented level which could sway the vote in his direction.

Penguins had been written off as a lost cause without Malkin and Crosby so Bylsma gets the huge turnaround/surprising team vote as well.

Cons for the Bylsma

Penguin’s power play numbers are putrid 15.5% tied with Trotz and Nashville for 25th place. Tampa Bay is sitting at 20.2% (6th) and Vancouver is clicking at 24.1% (1st).

Trotz has a Vezina candidate goaltender in Rinne and a (slightly) better defense.

Vigneault has the Canadian media on his side as well as the ridiculous numbers of the Canucks.

Tampa Bay and Boucher has the big turnaround from last season that the voters love.