Penguins closing in on coaching candidate

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has narrowed his search for a new coach significantly.

“I’ve zeroed in on one guy,” Rutherford said Thursday.

He did not name that candidate.

Rutherford indicated that he had some further vetting to do — “Just checking out a few things,” he said — and that no formal offer has been extended but that the hiring could be done in the next few days.

In an interesting development after Rutherford made those comments, it was learned that Willie Desjardins, the Dallas Stars’ top minor-league coach, was expected to be in town to meet with Penguins officials after talking with them by phone earlier Thursday. There was no indication that Desjardins is the finalist mentioned by Rutherford.

Desjardins, 57, was not available to be interviewed earlier in the week when the Penguins were talking with other candidates. He was busy coaching the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars to the Calder Trophy, including a clinching Game 5 win Tuesday at St. John’s in Newfoundland.

Rutherford fired Dan Bylsma as Penguins coach June 6.

“All eight guys I talked to did a good job” in the interviews, Rutherford said. “There are a few guys that I could have selected, but this one person is a guy with great character and leadership qualities. He’s very well prepared.

“He should be the kind of guy that can do some of the things I talked about [June 6 when I was hired]: more puck possession going into the offensive zone and making adjustments. It’s something he’s done very well during his coaching career, making adjustments at certain times.”

Among others known to have interviewed with Rutherford or who have been considered to be candidates are Penguins minor league coach John Hynes, New York Rangers assistant and former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, Detroit assistants Bill Peters and Tom Renney, and longtime NHL coaches Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford.

Peters, however, was hired Thursday as Carolina’s new coach .

Sportscaster and former NHL coach and general manager Doug MacLean said Thursday on a Toronto radio station that he interviewed with Rutherford for the Penguins job but said he was not a finalist.

Los Angeles’ John Stevens apparently was on the original wish list, but he instead accepted a promotion from assistant coach to associate coach and remained with the Kings.

Hiring a coach is a high-impact decision for Rutherford, but it’s far from the only one he will be making in the short term.

The Penguins have 11 players who are eligible for unrestricted free agency if not resigned by July 1.

Todd Diamond, agent for prospective unrestricted free-agent winger Jussi Jokinen, said in an email that things “are in a holding pattern until a new coach is named,” and that he expected to have conversations with the Penguins next week at the NHL draft in Philadelphia.

Jay Fee, agent for winger Brian Gibbons, indicated that he had not spoken with Rutherford.

Rutherford said decisions on and possible negotiations with the Penguins eligible for free agency are pending.

“Part of that is not just naming the coach, but where we are we with the [salary] cap? Can we free up some cap space?” he said.

“The next step is to figure out exactly what our cap is going into July 1.”

Between now and then is the draft, next Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia.

The NHL has released the official draft order. The Penguins have the 22nd overall pick in the first round, but don’t have another one until the fourth round (113th overall). They previously traded their second- and third-round picks.

They also have one pick in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.

Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published June 19, 2014 12:00 AM

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