Though the focus will be on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s big 5-4 overtime win against Canada Saturday at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championship, there was a minor footnote today that could prove to be big news in the future.
According to Team USA’s official game notes package and mentioned by Dave Randorf on the broadcast, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma is at the tournament as an “observer.”
Bylsma is not an official part of the staff, so why, unless he loves to vacation in Helsinki, would he be on hand? Surely he’s seen enough hockey over the last several months, guiding the Penguins to 51 wins last season, mostly without Sidney Crosby.
The answer remains unclear, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to speculate that this could have something to do with the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Bylsma is undoubtedly a prime candidate to lead the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team should NHL players return for the 2014 event in Sochi, Russia. The reigning Jack Adams Award winner and Grand Haven, Mich., native would be a terrific choice.
If Bylsma is there to observe, he’ll get a good feel for how teams use the Olympic-sized ice sheet. Additionally, many of the coaches at this tournament are in the running to lead their national teams at the 2014 Olympics. This gives Bylsma a good opportunity to familiarize himself with other national teams’ tendencies, assuming he won’t be able to make it to next year’s World Championship.
A few members of USA Hockey’s National Team Advisory Group are also in Helsinki, including Maple Leafs and 2010 Olympic GM Brian Burke, Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Penguins GM Ray Shero, along with Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations.
USA Hockey has yet to pick the official general manager for 2014, but that decision is likely to be made soon. Hockey Canada has already announced that Steve Yzerman, the architect of Canada’s 2010 gold-medal squad, will return to that same role for 2014.
Burke was named to his 2010 post two summers prior to the Olympics at USA Hockey’s Annual Congress in Colorado Springs. It is likely that would be the same time frame USA Hockey would like to keep to name it’s next GM which would be picked out of that National Team Advisory Group including general managers Burke, Tallon, Shero, Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Stan Bowman (Chicago), David Poile (Nashville), and Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles) and Don Waddell (Pittsburgh, pro scout).
Burke is a likely candidate after building the silver-medal squad in 2010, but Shero is another strong contender with what he’s done with the Pittsburgh organization.
USA Hockey will also be celebrating its 75th anniversary this June in Colorado Springs at its annual congress. What would be a better way to ring in 75 years and draw attention to the event than with a major 2014 Olympic announcement?
If Bylsma is the guy, he’s a great choice. He’s already got a Stanley Cup, winning in his first season behind the bench. In just three and a half years, Bylsma has already claimed 165 career wins as a head coach in the NHL. Also, anyone that saw him in HBO’s 24/7 series immediately fell in love with his coaching style and the way he deals with his players.
The lone drawback is that he has no international coaching experience, which could matter in the end. There will be other guys who have been there before like Ron Wilson and Peter Laviolette who have coached at the Olympic level. There is also John Tortorella who has coached at the World Championships before. The U.S. has a great problem in that it has many coaches to pick from.
That said, Bylsma is one of the most talked about coaches in the NHL and has had success wherever he’s been. His rise to becoming an NHL head coach was meteoric and he won instantly. Bylsma has also led a super-star laden team before, which is what the U.S. Olympic outfit will be. If Bylsma can get the most out of two of the best players in the world and still win even when they’re not in the lineup, that’s a sign of a pretty good ice hockey coach.
This is purely speculation, but Bylsma appears to be the leader in the clubhouse right now. His appearance as an observer at the World Championship just lends fuel to the fire.