Pens hire veteran Jacques Martin as assistant coach
Jacques Martin did not join the Penguins coaching staff specifically with Kris Letang on his mind.
Still, coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged Friday that Martin, his newest assistant, has a history of working with franchise defensemen.
“The experience he has with his different players – even the stages some of the players he's coached have been in – that was definitely something we looked at with Jacques,” Bylsma said.
“That experience Jacques had with defensemen of that ilk… was definitely part of the conversation that last month and a half.”
Martin, 60, will give the Bylsma three assistants for the upcoming season. General manager Ray Shero said the Penguins join “about 15” teams with at least three assistants. Shero's late father, Fred, revolutionized the NHL by employing full-time assistants in the 1970s with Philadelphia.
The Penguins were open to adding a third assistant last summer, but Bylsma said the right fit was not available. Martin spent last season working in television after he was fired by Montreal near the midpoint of the 2011-12 season.
Martin has served as head coach for four NHL teams, and his 613 wins rate 10th all time. He and Shero previously worked together in Ottawa in the mid 1990s. Martin was the head coach and Shero the assistant general manager.
Bylsma did not divulge many specifics of what Martin will bring to the Penguins, though he stressed a “different” and “outside” perspective that he believes will benefit a squad that returns 20 players to appear in at least one Stanley Cup playoffs game last spring.
One of those players, backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun, starred with Florida when Martin was the general manager and head coach from 2005-08. Vokoun described Martin as “a teacher – a really calm, patient guy who teaches by showing you mistakes.”
“He puts his emphasis on defensive responsibility,” Vokoun said. “That was his MO. You try to keep the puck out of the net in the first place and the offense should take care of itself.”
The Penguins are built around three stars, and Letang shines brightest than any players other than franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. A Norris Trophy (top defenseman) finalist for the first time last season, Letang agreed to an eight-year contract worth $58 million in June.
That contract begins after this season, at which point Letang will be 27. Martin has worked with several defensemen that went on to become bedrock players around that age – notably Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips (Ottawa) and Jay Bouwmeester (Florida).
Shero believes Letang, the NHL's leading scorer among defensemen in points-per-game last season, can become a routine Norris Trophy contender, as Chara did during his prime.
Martin is equally high on Letang.
“He has tremendous vision and offensive skill, (but) like many young defensemen it's about improving without the puck – more of a controlled game,” Martin said.
The Penguins' top prospects are all defensemen, and Martin will get a chance to work with the likes of roster contenders such as Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington – and 2012 first-round picks Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta – during training camp.
Bylsma's staff had remained stable for three consecutive seasons before Gilles Meloche resigned as goaltenders coach after last season. Meloche, who accepted another position with the organization, said he grew tired of the travel and wanted a role that would allow him more time with his family in Florida.
Bylsma said the search for a new goaltending coach is down to three finalists, and that a decision should be reached within “weeks.” He declined a firmer timetable.
Former Penguins backup goalie Brent Johnson and current AHL goaltender development coach Mike Bales have interviewed for Meloche's former post.
Bylsma, hired as a late-season replacement in February 2009, will preside over a completely different staff this season than the one with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Meloche, Mike Yeo and Tom Fitzgerald were assistants for that run. Fitzgerald returned to the Penguins' front office after that run and his now assistant to the general manager. Tony Granato replaced him for the 2009-10 season.
Todd Reirden, who handles the defensemen, was promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, where he worked with Bylsma, when Yeo departed for the head coaching position with Houston (AHL) after the 2009-10 season.
Bylsma stressed that Martin will serve in a “support role” on special teams. The Penguins' power play, which is primarily run by Bylsma, ranked second during the regular season and fourth in the playoffs. Their penalty kill, under the guidance of Granato, finished 25th in the regular season at less than 80 percent, but rallied to rank second in the playoffs at 92.3 percent.
Shero said that he was “100 percent behind” Martin when Bylsma made the recommendation.
“What's important to me is Jacques is always about the team,” Shero said. “I expect our coaches to add to all 23 guys on the roster. That's the strength of a coaching staff and what we're looking for.”
Note: Tickets for the first two exhibition games will go in sale at 10 a.m. On Aug. 27. Tickets for all regular-season games go on sale at the same time on Sept. 6.