The Sabres had to hire Dan Bylsma. And Bylsma had to take this job. The only surprise from this view is what took so long for it to happen after Mike Babcock jilted Buffalo.
If Bylsma and Jack Eichel rate as consolation prizes, this offseason is off to a pretty good start.
There are only 30 NHL head coaching jobs and Bylsma needed Buffalo to get back into the league after his unceremonious exit from Pittsburgh. Seriously now, was he really going to New Jersey? Babcock already had a job. He could have easily gone back to Detroit and had the option of moving to Toronto as well. He didn't need Buffalo like Byslma does.
Bylsma has spent his year off in a variety of roles, among them studying the ways of pretty much every team in the league. He was a television analyst for the NHL Network during the World Junior Championships and an assistant coach for Team USA during the just-completed World Championships in Prague.
That's a pair of up-close views of Eichel. For a guy who's first NHL gig was coaching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, getting the chance to mold Eichel -- and, for that matter, Sam Reinhart -- has to be pretty attractive too.
So is owner Terry Pegula's wallet. Bylsma was heavily down the road last year with the Florida Panthers, but they reportedly weren't willing to go in the range of $2.5 million per season. If the Sabres were willing to throw Babcock $6 million per, it's easy to figure Bylsma is going to rake in around $3 million and be in the top five of NHL coaching salaries. Doubt the Devils were doing that either.
Naysayers are quick to point out that Bylsma won only one Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh in the Crosby-Malkin era and that's true. But it's also the same number of Cups that the exulted Babcock won with Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
That key point was pretty much glossed over during last week's pep rally/press conference in Toronto.
Under Bylsma, No. 87 was riddled by concussions for two years. And Marc-Andre Fleury was pretty much a postseason sieve in goal, only once putting up a save percentage over .900 in the playoffs. (That will be a big question here as well: Who are the Sabres going to have in goal come October?). But who's quibbling over playoff failures from a guy who has won a Cup, when he's coming to a franchise that hasn't won a single series since 2007?
Overall, this is a fascinating challenge for Bylsma. The Penguins were already a ready-made team, albeit in turmoil, when he took over from Michel Therrien late in the 2008-09 Stanley Cup season. Remember, they had also gone to the '08 finals, losing to Babcock's Red Wings. The Sabres are a heavy lift, a total rebuild of the league's worst team two years running.
Bylsma's year off from hockey should be a huge factor. You know he studied the Sabres' prospect pool closely, figuring that Ted Nolan was just a place holder. He saw Eichel and Reinhart at the World Juniors. He has some potentially strong NHL forwards in place in Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson. A good captain in Brian Gionta. Emerging prospects like Zemgus Girgensons, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.
For Pegula and GM Tim Murray, being able to get a coach like Bylsma has to be a huge sigh of relief. There were plenty of questions about the organization's inner workings after the Babcock affair, and those questions remain. It was clear Pegula wanted a Rex Ryan-like splash and not a development coach, but getting snubbed again would have been a massive hit to the franchise's credibility. Only Babcock would be at that level, but getting a guy who beat Babcock in Game Seven of a Cup final in Joe Louis Arena isn't too bad either.
If the Sabres are really trying to win next season -- praise be -- a proven winner was needed. This hire had to be the guy the Sabres were confident could be the coach that has them someday playing hockey deep into the spring. Bylsma has been there.
He can get there again someday in Buffalo. This was one odd coaching search, with the Sabres twice putting pretty much all of their eggs in one basket. They got burned badly once. But it's hard to complain about the end result.