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Dan Bylsma rediscovers the joy in coaching and lands another NHL job with Seattle Kraken

SEATTLE (AP) — When Dan Bylsma took the job as an assistant coach in the American Hockey League in 2021, his hope was to rediscover some enjoyment being a coach.

Being back on an NHL bench at that point was the furthest thing from his mind.

“I think I needed to discover the joy of coaching again and changing a little bit in establishing relationships with the players,” Bylsma said. “Having done that over the past three years, it’s led me to this wanting to be the opportunity that I took next.”

Bylsma was introduced as the second head coach in the history of the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday, putting him in charge of an NHL bench for the first time since 2017.

It’s been a bit of a journey for Bylsma since his previous head coaching job at the NHL level in Buffalo. There were a few years as an assistant coach in Detroit after his dismissal in Buffalo. There was the assistant job with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL during the 2021-22 season that became the stepping stone to taking over as the head coach for the Coachella Valley Firebirds for their first season in 2022-23 as the top affiliate for the Kraken.

And now comes the chance to again oversee a team and see if he can replicate some of the success from his first stint as an NHL head coach in Pittsburgh when he won a Stanley Cup title, made the playoffs six times and won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

“He’s worked hard to get back to this level and earn this opportunity,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said.

Bylsma replaces Dave Hakstol, who was fired following his third season in charge after the Kraken took a significant step backward and struggled badly at the offensive end of the ice. Seattle made the playoffs in its second year and earned Hakstol a two-year contract extension, but he was let go before that extension ever kicked in.

Francis said he interviewed five candidates for the job before eventually choosing Bylsma.

“Watching him work with Coachella Valley the last couple of years, seeing the relationships he had with his players, the effort he had with his players, the effort he got each and every night, the way his teams played … it became clear he was the guy we wanted to lead us at this point,” Francis said.

Going with Bylsma is a decision that must go right for the Kraken management as they continue to try and find a hold in the local sports marketplace — and with the always looming hope of the NBA and the SuperSonics returning sometime in the future.

The team made strides with the unexpected playoff appearance in Year 2, but the backslide last season combined with distribution issues with the local regional sports network led to the team losing some relevance.

The Kraken recently announced it will have over-the-air broadcasts along with a streaming option via Prime Video beginning next season which should help. But ultimately a winning product is what will be needed.

“I think we’re still growing this franchise and we have incredible fans and we want to do right by them. They deserve the best and we want to build our fan base,” Seattle owner Samantha Holloway said.

Before he can fully turn his attention to his new position, Bylsma must finish the job he’s currently doing. Coachella Valley will host Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the Calder Cup playoffs on Wednesday night.

Once finished with his obligations in Seattle, Bylsma was getting back on a plane and headed back to Southern California.

“I think what we’ve built in Coachella Valley with the community and the fans, and the team is a large part of me being here today,” Bylsma said.

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