Penguins' search for new coach to restart next week
June 20, 2014 11:02 PM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
The Penguins are searching for a replacement for Dan Bylsma, who was fired as head coach June 6.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Public perception, even if it happens to be running more cold than hot, doesn't bother Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford.
But he's looking for someone who will be equally unaffected by the type of criticism and pressure that comes with coaching a high-profile team such as the Penguins.
"People recognize that there is extra pressure coming to these teams," Rutherford said Friday. "I would rather find out now than in January that the person can't handle this kind of scrutiny."
Apparently, that's partly why the search for a coach has been reopened. After meeting with a top candidate in Pittsburgh, Rutherford said the two parted ways by mutual agreement.
Rutherford didn't identify the candidate, but it's believed to be Willie Desjardins, who earlier in the week led Dallas' top minor league club to the Calder Cup championship. Since finishing his meeting with Rutherford, Desjardins reportedly has been in talks with Vancouver for its coaching vacancy.
"I met with one of the candidates that I thought very highly of, and thought that he was our guy, but after spending [Thursday] night and again [Friday] morning talking to him, on both sides it just didn't match up," Rutherford said, adding that "I had a more serious conversation than with anyone else I talked to. It just means the search is still on."
Rutherford plans to spend the weekend pondering the situation before diving back into the search. He said he will circle back to some of the candidates he already has interviewed and might add a name or two to his list.
Another name besides Desjardins' can be crossed off of the list. Former Detroit assistant Bill Peters was introduced Friday as the new Carolina coach.
Still available from the original list are New York Rangers assistant and former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, Penguins minor league coach John Hynes, longtime coaches Marc Crawford and Ron Wilson, and former NHL coach and general manager Doug MacLean. Hynes remains the only candidate identified by Rutherford throughout this process.
Rutherford has said it's not imperative that he has a coach in place by the NHL draft next weekend in Philadelphia, but he still has a soft deadline of the start of free agency July 1.
"I'm still working on the same time frame," he said. "I don't have to have a coach in place by free agency, but my preference is to [have it done by then]."
The who is of much greater concern than the when.
"It's a very important decision," Rutherford said. "This is a team that needs the right coach. I know that it will happen."
The Penguins have been considered an elite team since they went to the Stanley Cup final in back-to-back seasons, winning the title the second trip in 2009. They boast two of the world's top players in centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and a strong supporting cast.
But they have won just four playoff series and advanced as far as the Eastern Conference final just once since winning the Cup. And Crosby will be 27, Malkin, 28, before the start of next season.
Rutherford has stated a preference for a coach who favors puck possession entering the offensive zone and who is adept at making adjustments, both in games and over the course of a playoff series. He also wants a coach whose skin is thick enough to handle being in the Penguins' spotlight.
Asked about proliferating opinions expressed on social media and elsewhere that the Penguins have botched their coaching search or that candidates such as Peters and Desjardins have rejected the Penguins, Rutherford stood firm.
"Certainly, people have options," he said. "Maybe someone decided to go in a different direction. It can be an intimidating job to take on if this is your first NHL stint."
Peters and Desjardins have no NHL head coaching experience. Neither do Samuelsson and Hynes.
Rutherford insisted that he has not made such experience a prerequisite as he searches for a replacement for Dan Bylsma, who was fired June 6. But he wants to weed out any prospective coach he suspects might wilt under the microscope that is always aimed at the spot behind the Penguins bench.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.
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