Dan Bylsma, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, will serve in that same role for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, according to Kevin Allen of USA Today. David Poile, as expected, will serve as general manager of the team, while Ray Shero will be associate general manager and Brian Burke will serve on the staff as the director of player personnel. USA Hockey made the management team announcement Friday, while Bylsma is expected to be unveiled at a press conference Saturday in New York City.
This is all contingent, of course, on the NHL and International Olympic Committee finalizing an agreement to allow NHL players to participate in Sochi. According to Gary Bettman, the two sides will meet Monday with hopes of coming to a resolution. It is believed all parties are close to an agreement.
None of these moves are particularly surprising as the rumblings haven’t been so quiet about the direction this staff was headed.
As far as team management, Poile seemed the likely general manager when it was revealed USA Hockey preferred a current NHL GM for the role, ruling out Burke. Poile was the assistant GM for the 2010 Olympic team and as such, seems like a natural fit.
Shero is well respected in USA Hockey and has earned his shot to be a major player in the formulation of this team. Coincidentally, Poile and Shero are the last two winners of the NHL’s general manager of the year award.
It is extremely smart to include Burke, the architect of the 2010 silver-medal squad, to play a prominent role once again. He may have the most time to get out and see players and fully evaluate the pool as a pro scout for Anaheim.
Bylsma, a native of Grand Haven, Mich., was certainly the trendy choice and is well deserving of his first shot at a national team. A Stanley Cup on his resume and familiarity with dealing with a star-studded team should really help him in preparing for the Olympics. He also employs a more wide-open style game that should do well on the big ice surface in Sochi.
The Penguins head coach had become more visible at USA Hockey functions from junior team camps to joining USA Hockey two springs ago at the World Championship as an “observer.” Bylsma had also been vocal about his aspirations for the position over the last year. The writing seemed to be on the wall and in all honesty, he seemed like the most natural choice for this team at this time.
This will be Bylsma’s first international experience in any capacity, however. He did not play on any U.S. National Teams throughout his career, and has not been a head or assistant coach at any international tournament previously to my knowledge. That inexperience may be a moderate concern, but is easily mitigated with a strong support staff. Additionally, with the player pool he’ll have to select from, the U.S. should be able to field a very competitive team.
Allen reports Bylsma was selected over Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella. Laviollette was the Olympic head coach in 2006, while Tortorella was an assistant in 2010. After another disappointing postseason exit, Bylsma’s stability as the top candidate for this job seemed to waver at least on the outside, but I think he was the main target for a long time now.
How he fills out the rest of his coaching staff will be interesting, and he may have some heavy input from the management team on that. However, Bylsma may have an ideal candidate on his own bench in Pittsburgh in Tony Granato who has a wealth of international playing experience and was an Olympian in 1988.
Other candidates for the assistant coaches could include Laviolette or Tortorella, Buffalo Sabres head coach Ron Rolston, 2010 head coach Ron Wilson among others.
USA Hockey has a sound management group led by Poile. The organization will have involvement from several NHL GMs as part of its advisory group, but the final decisions will come down to Poile, Shero, Burke and Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations.
Poile is very in tune with the international and should be able to easily identify players that are going to be built for the big ice surface. Look for a focus on speed, with some grit in the bottom of the forward lineup and loads of mobility on the back end.
This group has a challenging task ahead. Canada will field a strong team again, but the fact that this tournament will be on Olympic ice is a great equalizer for many of the European counties. Host Russia will carry heavy expectations, while Sweden should be loaded and Finland always ices a very competitive group. It should be a wide open field in Sochi.
The next big task for USA Hockey’s newly-minted Olympic staff is to put together a camp roster of probably 40-plus players for the orientation camp in August. Details of that camp are to be announced Saturday as well, though I don’t anticipate a roster to be unveiled then.
Unquestionably, the U.S. is going to be able to put a solid team on the ice in Sochi and will have a good a chance as anybody to win gold. They won’t be favored, but it should be a very exciting group with some high-end speed, good goaltending and some terrific young players. They’ll be in good hands with Poile and Bylsma.