First seven candidates interview for Penguins coaching job

Jim Rutherford isn't easing himself into the Penguins' coaching search.

He interviewed a total of seven candidates to replace Dan Bylsma Monday and Tuesday and has one name left in his list of possibilities.

But even though that final candidate is supposed to meet with Rutherford and members of his staff today, that doesn't mean a hiring is imminent.

"There are a lot of things to digest," Rutherford said.

At this point, he said, there is no reason to stray from his original plan of only having a coach in place before the start of free agency July 1.

"The process has been good," Rutherford said. "I feel comfortable that we're going to get somebody we like, and who works. ... I'm trying to be fair and careful with this decision."

Before the coaching search began, Rutherford made it clear he was looking for someone who appreciated the value of puck-possession, was capable of making significant adjustments in midgame or during a playoff series and was willing to use analytics.

The message wasn't lost on the candidates with whom he has spoken.

"I would say that most of the guys got some of the points I was looking for," Rutherford said.

Chuckling, he added, "Maybe they read my quotes, and they were well-prepared."

Rutherford said he does not anticipate conducting any second interviews, but that any that might be necessary would be handled by phone.

Although John Hynes, coach of the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre, is the only candidate Rutherford has publicly identified, longtime NHL coaches Marc Crawford and Ron Wilson are under consideration, too.

Detroit associate coach Tom Renney, who has been a head coach in Vancouver, New York and Edmonton, also is believed to be on Rutherford's list, although that hasn't been confirmed.

The Penguins, however, have not spoken with Los Angeles assistant coach John Stevens and are not expected to. Stevens, a head coach in Philadelphia before joining the Kings, is believed to be leaning toward remaining in Los Angeles, even though several clubs have expressed interest in hiring him.

Still, several NHL assistants are on Rutherford's radar. They include former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson of the New York Rangers, widely regarded as the favorite to fill the Carolina coaching vacancy, and Detroit's Bill Peters, who interviewed recently for Florida's coaching job.

Rutherford said, "I suppose I could broaden that list [of candidates] at some point in time," but was quick to add, "I'm not planning to."

When they haven't been interviewing coaching candidates, Rutherford, associate general manager Jason Botterill, assistant general manager Bill Guerin and vice president of hockey operations Jason Karmanos have been discussing personnel to prepare for potential trades and the start of free agency.

One matter already settled is that the Penguins plan to make qualifying offers to all five restricted free agents-to-be. They are center Brandon Sutter, forwards Jayson Megna and Bobby Farnham and defensemen Philip Samuelsson (Ulf Samuelsson's son) and Simon Despres.

Doing so will give the Penguins the right to match any contract offer one of those players would receive from another club or to receive compensation if they would decline to match.

Sutter, who Rutherford traded to the Penguins in the Jordan Staal deal two years ago while serving as Carolina's general manager, just completed a three-year contract with a salary-cap hit of $2,066,667.

He surely will be in line for a raise, and it doesn't sound as if Rutherford will balk at giving him one.

"I've liked Brandon right from the time I drafted him," he said. "He's not a guy I wanted to trade.

"I think Brandon is a very good player and a great person. With the role he has played here, I think that if he's utilized in a different way, he has even more to offer."

Trades, the draft and free agency appear to be back-burner issues, at least for the moment.

"We haven't made any final decisions on anything," Rutherford said.

That might be because the priority is settling on a coach, who will be the first Rutherford has hired in an offseason. That isn't simply a nugget of trivia. The timing of the Penguins' coaching change has allowed him to be more thorough than is possible with an in-season hire.

"I haven't had the luxury of going through the process like I am now," he said.

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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