Bylsma happy hockey is back on the horizon

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:02 PM

Dan Bylsma's not used to sitting around with free time on his hands, especially this time of year.

But with the NHL lockout in effect the past several months, Bylsma — the Grand Haven native and head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins — has had to find other ways to occupy his time.

"In terms of the hockey season, you don't have a lot of time on your hands," Bylsma said earlier this week from his Pittsburgh home. "You don't have normal weekends off, so I was able to be on the ice with my son's hockey team, or be able to get to their practices and help out there.

"I had more time than normal to spend with my family."

But that time will soon come to an end. The lockout, which began back on Sept. 15, 2012, came to an end earlier this week when the NHL's Board of Governors ratified a new contract. The deal is currently pending final ratification by the NHL's Players Association.

"It's very exciting," Bylsma said. "It's been a long wait, and it's been an emotional time, not knowing, going through this process. Being able to get back, hopefully being able to start training camp and get games under way is really exciting."

Byslma said that he and his coaching staff put plenty of time in during the lockout preparing for several different scenarios. Now they're simply awaiting word from the league as to when they can get started.

"A couple weeks ago, we were on alert that we might be dealing with a (collective bargaining agreement) starting with a 48 or 50 game schedule," Byslma said. "We've planned for a seven-day camp, planed for a six-day, a five-day camp. We're still trying to anticipate when the day we actually get to start is, waiting to see which plan we're going with."

Bylsma said that, throughout the lockout, he didn't have any more information on the future of the league than the casual fan watching ESPN.

Many around the game are worried that the lockout will have an adverse affect on the league's popularity among fans. In 2004-05, the entire NHL season was lost due to a work stoppage, and fans were slow to embrace the league when it resumed play the following season.

Bylsma said that, at least in Pittsburgh, he's confident the fans have remained loyal.

"I know that for the fans here in Pittsburgh, it's a big fabric of life," he said. "It's part of being a Pittsburgher. I know people have talked about missing going to games, missing hockey on TV.

"Here, the high school football season winds down, the NFL season, the Steelers ends, and it's hockey time, and they've missed that.

"It's been disappointing, not playing, because it affects people's livelihoods. That's really the most frustrating part about the situation. So we're excited to have it back, and I know the hockey fans in Pittsburgh are excited to have it back."

In Bylsma's first season behind the bench, he guided the Penguins to the Stanley Cup championship. Amid higher expectations, they've won 47, 49 and 51 games the past three seasons, finishing second in the Atlantic Division each year.

Expectations are high again this year, especially with superstar Sidney Crosby primed to return to the ice. Crosby suffered a concussion during the 2010-11 season that kept him away from the game for more than 10 months. He returned for the 2011-12 season, but played only eight games before concussion-like symptoms returned and kept him out until late in the year.

"Crosby has been a big leader, doing organized practices," Bylsma said. "He's had a very good summer. He was ready to come back in September. I think he's continued to have good rest, good workouts, good skating. He's chomping at the bit to play some hockey games, and I think you're going to see that from him. You're going to see him at a high level."

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