Pens Coaching Search Update: WTF is going on?!

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Here’s a recap of the week with a plethora of thoughts at the end about how this search is going.


We knew the coaching search would begin Monday based on Rutherford’s comments in his introductory press conference two weeks ago.

The interview process began as expected, with WBS coach John Hynes up first.

The Post-Gazette also suggested John Stevens would receive consideration, in “Penguins coaching search will move at Rutherford’s pace” (The titles are amusing, so watch them change). It was later leaked that Marc Crawford would get an interview (much to everyone’s chagrin).

  Monday night, the Post-Gazette went with “Penguins shifting hunt for coach into high gear” in an update that said the Penguins had nothing to report and mentioned that Rick Tocchet may be interested in the position. End of Monday: Possible coaches – Hynes, Crawford, Tocchet?


Tuesday brought more talk about Marc Crawford and added Ron Wilson to the mix.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were looking to talk to Ulf Samuelsson.


And both teams wanted to talk to John Stevens.

The next update at midday came from Rob Rossi in “Sources: Samuelsson among list of coaching candidates for Penguins.” The update included Ron Wilson, Marc Crawford, Ulf Samuelsson, Bill Peters, and John Hynes as candidates. It also mentioned that the Penguins wanted to target John Stevens and that Rick Tocchet was being considered as an assistant coach. A late update from Dave Molinari, “First seven candidates interview for Penguins coaching job,” reiterated most of this. He added an unconfirmed Tom Renney to the list and said that the Penguins were unsure if they would talk to Stevens. It was also mentioned that Samuelsson was widely regarded as the front-runner for the Hurricanes job and that Peters was in the running for the Panthers job. End of Tuesday: Possible coaches – Hynes, Crawford, Wilson, Samuelsson, Peters, Stevens, Renney? Possible assistants – Tocchet? Here’s a link to my thoughts post based on those candidates.


The first update on Wednesday came from Rob Rossi, “AHL’s Desjardins latest Penguin candidate; interviews near end.” Willie Desjardins was added to the interview list and everyone but Renney was mentioned. Tocchet was discussed as an assistant again and there were more questions about whether LA would let anyone talk to Stevens. Then we found out Stevens would not be a possibility.

  As of Wednesday night, Dave Molinari told us in “Penguins: Interviews for new coach are finished” that Willie Desjardins had not spoken with Rutherford and that it seemed unlikely that discussion would occur. Rutherford stated, “I think I’m through it now unless there’s some surprise that comes along tonight.” His list of interviewed candidates included Renney this time around. It seemed like things were getting close, both for Pittsburgh and Carolina.


  End of Wednesday: Possible coaches – Hynes, Crawford, Wilson, Samuelsson, Peters, Renney? Maybe Desjardins? Here’s a link to my thoughts post on Desjardins getting added to the mix.


Thursday got off to an awkward start…Doug MacLean?!?

MacLean had a lot to say though.




Based on MacLean’s description of the candidates we knew about, that limited the options to Samuelsson and Peters.

Shelly Anderson confirmed this was getting close to an end.

Josh Rimer had his thoughts too…


Then this happened.


Okay, Willie Desjardins is in play? Why?




  Well, something went awry there. Enter Willie Desjardins, at light speed.

After Peters was announced as the head coach for Carolina, both the Trib and Post-Gazette wrote quickly in the afternoon. In “Penguins GM Rutherford ‘real close’ to choosing team’s next coach” by Rob Rossi, Rutherford said that the process was coming to an end and a decision was coming real soon. Meanwhile, in “Penguins closing in on coaching candidate” by Shelly Anderson, Rutherford said he was zeroed in on one guy. Also, Florida was putting in work, but it had nothing to do with the Pens candidates.


By Thursday night, everything was coming up Willie.



Desjardins actually skipped his Calder Cup trophy celebration in Texas to fly in to talk to the Penguins.

End of Thursday: Possible coaches: Desjardins? In the background: Samuelsson, Renney? Further in the background: Hynes, Wilson, Crawford? Gone: Peters


Of course, nothing plays out straight-forward here.





Oh…bye Willie. Back to the drawing board.

  Meanwhile, other issues loom.

Bylsma anyone?


In Rob Rossi’s Friday update, “Pens don’t land top coaching target,” Rutherford said that his guy was going in a different direction and the coaching search was coming to an end. Rossi also stated that league sources said Rutherford and Desjardins talked Thursday night and Friday morning, but Rutherford said they couldn’t make it work. Rutherford added he’s going to take the weekend to sort some things out and will start another coaching search next week with the same list plus two or three guys.

The End…for now.


Where does one even begin?

  • Current landscape: Peters is officially in Carolina. It’s not official yet, but it appears that Desjardins will end up in Vancouver and Gallant will end up in Florida. This will leave the Penguins as the final coaching vacancy.
  • Current candidates: Samuelsson would seemingly be the front-runner, but apparently is not enough of a front-runner for the Penguins to go with him after their top preferences moved on? Other options appear to include Renney, Wilson, Crawford, Hynes, and MacLean. Perhaps Tocchet as an assistant coach still too. There will probably be more guys added to this list next week.
  • People have asked me about Guy Boucher, it sounds like he doesn’t have an NHL out-clause until after 2014-15.

What’s happening?

  • It appears that Peters and Desjardins have chosen other teams over the Penguins on back-to-back days.

There are an unlimited amount of theories for this. Possible ones include:

  • Term/Salary – Shorter terms will be frowned upon, especially with all of the Babcock talk, because no coach wants to enter a position feeling like he’s immediately in a lame duck situation.
  • Management – Does a coach want to deal with a GM, associate GM, two assistant GMs, and a VP of Hockey Operations? Does a coach want to enter a situation where the GM is there for a limited time and things are guaranteed to change soon? Can all of the GMs even come to a decision on what exactly their expectations are? Going beyond the GMs, where do the expectations of Morehouse/Lemieux/Burkle fit in? How many guys is a coach answering to? There are plenty of reasons to feel uncomfortable with the current management/reporting situation.
  • Staff – There have been several reports discussing Tocchet as an assistant coach and even Rod Brind’Amour being brought in to some capacity (though Carolina said yesterday they play to retain him). What coach wants to enter a situation where he can’t pick all of his assistants and doesn’t have complete control there?
  • Expectations – What are the winning expectations from management? Bylsma was almost fired after losing in the conference final and was fired after losing in the conference semifinals. Will a new coach have any leeway at all or will a first round exit immediately be deemed a failure and a firing (there’s that Babcock rumor again).
  • Treatment – Are coaches asking about the treatment of Dan Bylsma and how he was fired? It probably didn’t set the greatest precedent for incoming coaches to consider.
  • Team – The Penguins are a flawed team (depth, etc). How do these coaches feel about Fleury compared to the GMs? What’s the word on the locker room atmosphere and how coaches with different resumes might be received by specific players? Have the GMs had different visions for the team than the coaches?
  • And so on, and so on, and so on. Other cities provide lesser expectations and more room for growth for new coaches, which generally means a longer leash, longer guaranteed tenures, and less of a black mark on the resume if things go awry. If a new NHL head coach enters Pittsburgh, has a rough first year, and gets fired immediately…good luck reviving that NHL head coaching career. Many will argue that if a coach can’t handle that pressure, he shouldn’t be coach. Perhaps that’s an accurate statement. But I’m not sure why a coach would voluntarily put himself in a worse position for his career outlook. It’s not like this roster is guaranteed to win the Cup, even with Crosby and Malkin.  The Penguins may not be offering enough compensation (years, cash, etc) for the situation they are offering.


What about Babcock?

  • What about him? Everyone, including the Penguins if they are crazy enough to think about it, needs to forget about the fact that Babcock is available in a year. Coaching is just like a relationship – timing is a significant factor. The timing is not right and that’s something everyone must accept. Everything can change dramatically within a season.
  • Also, “wasting” a year of this team largely in its prime years just for the *hope* of getting a coach is just plain illogical.
  • PS – I’m saying Babcock goes to San Jose next summer after they fail in the playoffs again and he decides that’s the challenge he wants.

What’s left?

  • Here’s my preferred order at this point from the “known” candidates: Wilson, Hynes, Samuelsson, Renney, Crawford, MacLean. So guys, who wants to be third choice?!?

A “retread”?


Hang in there, Pens fans!  Thanks for reading!!