Many believe that the Pittsburgh Penguins are just a head coach away from Stanley Cup glory. The organization is hopeful that it has found its man in the form of Mike Johnston.
According to TSN's Darren Dreger, the Pens have agreed to a three-year contract with the longtime Portland Winterhawks coach to replace the departed Dan Bylsma:
I'm hearing Mike Johnston has agreed to a 3 year contract to coach the Pens. #TSN— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 25, 2014
Johnston spoke about the position and his strategy once he gets the team out on the ice (via the Penguins and Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
Mike Johnston on #Pens coaching job: “As a career coach, you aspire to get to these positions… It’s been my goal, it’s been my dream."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 25, 2014
Mike Johnston discusses the style of hockey he intends to coach with the #Pens: “Puck possession, puck management, tempo, and pace.”— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 25, 2014
Johnston on habits throughout the season: “Everything we do [from day one] is setting the table for the playoffs." pic.twitter.com/RCLQ1WVrRb— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 25, 2014
General manager Jim Rutherford also spoke about Johnston (via Molinari):
Rutherford says Johnston coaches "a high-tempo system that starts in your own end."— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) June 25, 2014
Rutherford: "[Adjusting during games] is probably his strongest suit."— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) June 25, 2014
The Penguins also announced some changes to the coaching staff after Johnston's hire via the team website:
Rick Tocchet has been named an Assistant Coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Jim Rutherford and Head Coach Mike Johnston.
Johnston will look to add one more assistant coach to his staff.
Tony Granato and Todd Reirden will not return to the Penguins’ staff. Jacques Martin will remain with the club in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.
Mike Bales (goaltending coach) and Andy Saucier (video coordinator) will both remain in their current roles.
Johnston and Tocchet spoke about his appointment to the staff during Wednesday's press conference (via Molinari):
Johnston: "[Tocchet] is going to be a great and valuable resource."— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) June 25, 2014
Tocchet: "You want to be in a situation where there's pressure to win."— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) June 25, 2014
After falling to the New York Rangers in the second round of the playoffs, the Penguins decided to fire Bylsma. Although Bylsma led the Penguins a Stanley Cup in 2009 as a late-season replacement, he was never able to return to that level despite having superstar players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at his disposal.
Relieving Bylsma of his duties was the first big move by new general manager Jim Rutherford, but hiring Johnston is his most significant to date. The Pens courted Johnston leading up to Wednesday's decision and the two sides apparently had great synergy, per Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet:
It was important for Pittsburgh to make a move on the head-coaching front not only because the NHL draft is looming on Friday, but also because Johnston was in play elsewhere, according to Sportsnet's Damien Cox:
Leafs looking to have coaching staff filled out in next 5-6 days. If Mike Johnston doesn't get job in PITT, he's definitely on TOR's radar.— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) June 25, 2014
Although it ultimately didn't take long for the Penguins to get their guy, Rutherford made it clear leading up to the hire that he had no intentions of rushing into a decision, per Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"The process for (finding) a coach is right on the time frame that I was hoping for," Rutherford said. "I guess people get anxious. They want news sooner. I'm trying to do a thorough search here and bring in a coach that really wants to come here and who will do a good job."
Finding a coach who wanted to lead this talented roster couldn't have been much of an issue. The true challenge for Rutherford was to find someone with the ability to get the most out of it.
Is Mike Johnston a good hire by the Penguins?
While Johnston has never been a head coach at the NHL level, he was an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings for eight seasons. He then went on to a great deal of success with the Winterhawks in the WHL as he led Portland to three WHL final appearances.
Success at the junior level and in the NHL are two different things, but the Penguins may be on to something in terms of going outside the NHL rather than bringing in a retread as is so often the case.
Johnston is a new and fresh voice, which is something the Penguins have desperately needed for the past few years.
Sometimes all it takes is one little tweak to lead a team to greatness, and Johnston could be the missing piece to Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup puzzle.
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