Pros and Cons of the Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Candidates

Steve Rodenbaugh@rodeyslContributor IIIJune 20, 2014

Pros and Cons of the Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Candidates

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    While each offseason presents a new set of questions and drama, this postseason seems to have even more than usual in store for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Having now fired both their general manager and head coach after yet another postseason disappointment, the team ownership has chosen a new direction with former Penguin goaltender Jim Rutherford now calling the shots as general manager but they still have not settled on a head coach.

    With less than two weeks until the NHL Entry Draft and the start of the free-agency signing period, let's take a look at the pros and cons of the top candidates and handicap the race to be the Pittsburgh Penguins next head coach.

Ron Wilson

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    Background:  Having played professionally for 11 years, Ron Wilson has been an NHL head coach since 1993, coached four different franchises and also coached Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

    Pros:  With 1,401 NHL games behind the bench, Wilson ranks fourth on the all-time list for games coached and likes to employ an up-tempo style that would be a good fit for the Pens' talented forwards and mobile defensemen.

    Long known for integrating technology into coaching, Wilson is highly regarded in both the NHL and international hockey circles and is the kind of established and innovative coach that organizations tend to pursue.

    Cons:  While Wilson's coaching style, experience and personality makes him a safe pick, it's hard to see much difference between him and the recently fired Dan Bylsma.

    In addition, Pens ownership has openly advocated for a more physical and grinding style of play but that is not what Wilson employed in the past and his teams have only advanced past the second round of the playoffs twice in 18 years behind the bench.

    Verdict:  For a team looking to change not only its roster and style of play but also its persona, Wilson, while definitely qualified, might simply be a more experienced but less successful version of Dan Bylsma.

    Probability of getting the job:  10 percent

John Hynes

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    Background:  Having worked as an assistant in college hockey, John Hynes spent a lot of time with USA Hockey before joining the Penguins organization as an assistant and now head coach for the team's AHL affiliate.

    Pros:  Having spent six years as a head coach in the USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, Hynes has a lot experience with developing young players which is something that the Pens as an organization have struggled with.

    Hired as an assistant coach for the Wilkes-Barre Pens in 2009 and promoted to head coach in 2010, Hynes has worked with a lot of the Pens' younger players like Beau Bennett and Olli Maatta and would be uniquely qualified to help the younger players take the next step in their development.

    Cons:  While assistant general manager Jason Botterill was more involved with the organization's minor league system than was former general manager Ray Shero, it's hard to see how simply promoting in-house would be seen as a step in a new direction.

    In addition, Hynes does not have the instant gravitas with the players that other candidates would so, if the intent is to get the players' attention, bringing an unknown with no head NHL coaching experience hardly does that.

    Verdict:  While the Pens' last three head coaches have been promoted from their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, the team's core group of players is older now and likely needs a more established presence behind the bench.

    Probability of getting the job: 5 percent

Kevin Dineen

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    Background:  Known as a tough and gritty forward during his 19-year playing career, Kevin Dineen has been a minor league head coach for six years and he was the head coach of the Florida Panthers for three seasons until his firing last year.

    Pros:  Much like his playing days, Dineen brings a sense of grit and toughness to the teams he coaches and, based on the published opinions of Mario Lemieux and the rest of the Penguins ownership, that is exactly what they feel the current Pens roster lacks.

    Having spent 12 seasons with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes organization, he has close ties to former Hurricanes and current Pens general manager Jim Rutherford so Pens management would know exactly what type of coach and person they are getting.

    Cons:  While Dineen led the Florida Panthers to their first Southeast Division Title in franchise history in his first season, there was a significant drop-off the next season and he was fired after a slow start to the 2013-14 season.

    For a team looking for a long-term answer rather than a short-term fix, the concern would be that either Dineen's message wears thin after a while or that he isn't willing or able to adjust his scheme to counter his opponents, which was a widely held perception of Dan Bylsma and led to his ultimate firing.

    Verdict:  Apart from the obligatory jokes by rival fans about how Dineen's previous head coaching job with the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team makes him ideally suited to coach the Pens, Dineen would be a great hire and would instantly command respect in the locker room.

    Probability of getting the job:  15 percent

Mike Keenan

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    Background:  Best remembered for leading the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994, Mike Keenan has coached for eight different organizations and is seen by many as the NHL's answer to Bill Parcells of the NFL: A brash personality who will squeeze the maximum performance out of his roster.

    Pros:  If your main goal is ratchet up the intensity of your locker room and challenge your stars to perform better, then Mike Keenan is definitely your man.

    Long known for his brashness and tendency to clash with his players, Keenan would definitely erase any complacency that may exist on the roster and would command instant respect from both the younger players and veterans alike.

    Cons:  While his aggressive persona and take-no-prisoners approach would be a welcome sight for Pens ownership and fans, history shows that Keenan tends to wear out his welcome fairly quickly. 

    Having only lasted an average of two seasons in each of his last four coaching jobs, Keenan is the boom-or-bust candidate of the group and his poor record in recent years, which include just two playoff appearances in his last nine seasons behind the bench, doesn't inspire confidence. 

    Verdict:  While Keenan might be a perfect short-term fit for team of veterans in their 30s who can handle his in-your-face approach, the Pens are a relatively young team and need a stabilizing and long-term influence behind the bench.

    Probability of getting the job:  5 percent

Ulf Samuelsson

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    Background:  Known as a hard-nosed and nasty defenseman in his playing days, Ulf Samuelsson was an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes from 2006-11 and is currently an assistant coach with the New York Rangers.  

    Pros:  Already having been a head coach in Sweden, Samuelsson would have instant credibility in the locker room and his hard-nosed approach to the game would help the Pens be a much more physical and grittier team, which is what the Pens ownership definitely wants.

    Having twice won the Stanley Cup playing alongside team-owner Mario Lemieux as a member of the Pens, Samuelsson already has a good relationship with both the organization and the Pittsburgh media and his tough-guy persona would definitely be welcomed by Pens fans.

    Cons:  With his friend and former teammate calling the shots as owner and with his son Philip playing in the organization, Samuelsson has extensive connections with the Pens but that could create problems for a rookie head coach seeking to establish his own identity.

    Rather than deal with complications of coaching his son, Samuelsson could opt for a job where he can have more of a say in personnel decisions than he might with the Pens.

    Verdict:  Whether it is in Pittsburgh or another NHL city, Ulf Samuelsson will most likely be a head coach somewhere next season and his hard-nosed approach to the game, coupled with the top-notch talent already on the roster, would make the Pens a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender again.  

    Probability of getting the job:  25 percent 

John Stevens

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    Background:  Currently an assistant coach with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Stevens has head-coaching experience in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2006-10, but he was fired in part due to a lack of postseason success, and he was ousted by the Penguins in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs.

    Pros:  A former NHL defenseman and highly regarded in hockey circles as a great teacher, Stevens is credited with making the kings of the best defensive teams in the league and helping Drew Doughty become a Norris Trophy winner. 

    With a wealth of young defensemen in their farm system and facing the possibility of losing three defensemen to free agency, the Pens will need good coaching to shore up their blue line and Stevens has proven to be more than capable of providing that.

    Cons:  While Stevens' defensive credentials are impeccable, his Flyers teams struggled at times to score and his cerebral approach may not be the right fit for a complacent team that seems to need a more challenging and dynamic presence behind the bench.

    Although Stevens would likely bring the "puck-possession" style to the Pens that the Kings use, the Pens aren't built the same way as the Kings so it might not be as good of a fit even after a roster makeover this summer.

    Verdict:  While Stevens would be a great addition as an assistant coach, his lack of success as a head coach and uninspiring personality raise questions about his ability to motivate and lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup.

    Probability of getting the job:  15 percent

Willie Desjardins

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    Background: After a career playing in juniors and at the college level, Willie Desjardins had an extensive run as a head coach in the WHL and served as an assistant with the Dallas Stars before becoming head coach of the AHL affiliate. 

    Pros:  Known for his high-octane type scheme and his intense practices, Desjardins sets a fast pace for his teams to follow and doesn't let up.

    With concerns raised by observers about a "country club" atmosphere that had formed in the Pens locker room, Desjardins would definitely get the Pens back to the blue-collar approach that served them well when they were younger and hungrier than they seem to be now.

    Cons:  Anytime you hire a head coach who has never been a head coach at the NHL level before, there's going to be a risk of lack of respect on the part of the players, particularly for a coach who wants to shake things up as Desjardins would likely do.

    Despite his success in the AHL, Desjardins might have a hard convincing the Pens core group of players to buy into his system which they didn't seem to do at the end of Dan Bylsma's tenure.

    Verdict:  Known for working well with young players and for his puck-pressure scheme which focuses on transition, quick passing and outshooting opponents, Desjardins might be an ideal fit for a talented but enigmatic team as the Pens have shown themselves to be.

    Probability of getting the job:  30 percent