Phase 1 of the Penguins’ coaching search is over.
General manager Jim Rutherford interviewed his eighth candidate Wednesday, then reiterated he does not expect there to be a ninth.
“I think I’m through it now,” he said, “unless there’s some surprise that comes along tonight.”
Rutherford apparently has not spoken with Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins, whose team won the American Hockey League championship Tuesday night, and at this point, it seems unlikely that he will do so before settling on Dan Bylsma’s replacement.
The list of candidates is believed to include Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes — the only publicly acknowledged contender — NHL assistants Ulf Samuelsson (New York Rangers) and Bill Peters (Detroit), Red Wings associate coach Tom Renney and longtime NHL coaches Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford. The identities of the other two candidates have not been established.
While it is impossible to predict who Rutherford will settle on to be behind the Penguins’ bench in 2014-15, he said several of the interviewees appear to be capable of helping the Penguins perform to their potential in coming seasons.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s more than one, which makes it good,” he said. “I will say that all the guys I interviewed did a good job. Here, in the near future, I have to make a decision that most suits what we need.”
Rutherford said the coach he selects will have “to have a presence and the respect of the players,” and reinforced the idea his choice must coach a puck-possession style and have a proven ability to make adjustments in individual games and playoff series.
While he might have been impressed, to varying degrees, by everyone he interviewed, Rutherford acknowledged that a few had separated themselves from the group while speaking with him and other members of the Penguins front office.
“I’m getting it down to a couple,” he said. “I really, as I narrow it down here, would like to make a decision fairly soon.”
The only deadline Rutherford has stipulated is that he would like to have a coach in place before the start of free agency July 1.
Rutherford hired a handful of coaches in his time as general manager for the Hartford/Carolina franchise and has developed a mental checklist of sorts he will run through while winnowing the list to one.
“You just break it down as to the knowledge of the coach, as to the preparation of a coach, as to his character and his leadership,” he said.
“All these guys have all those things. It’s a matter of who I ultimately feel has the best overall package.”
One thing that isn’t likely to influence Rutherford’s selection to any significant extent is a hunch. For better or worse, gut feelings have played a part in countless hockey decisions over the years, but Rutherford said they will not be part of this equation.
“It’s [all about] how the process works and how they presented themselves,” he said. “What they know about the league, what they know about the Penguins, what their systems are, what they know about the game.”
Although Rutherford is just completing his second week on the job, he appreciates the importance of the hire he is preparing to make. His current plan is to be the general manager here for only two or three years, so the decision on a coach is a virtual lock to rank among the most significant of his tenure.
“It will be one of them,” Rutherford said. “It will certainly end up being in the top three.”
•NOTES — The Penguins preseason schedule includes home games against Detroit Sept. 22, Minnesota Sept. 25 and Columbus Sept. 27 and visits to Columbus Sept. 23, Minnesota Sept. 29 and Detroit Oct. 1. WPCW will televise the home games against the Red Wings and Blue Jackets, while Root Sports will carry the games at Minnesota and Detroit. … Los Angeles refused to give other teams permission to speak with assistant coach John Stevens about a head-coaching position and promoted him to associate coach Wednesday. He would have been a candidate for the Penguins job if he had been available.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.