Niskanen's future with Pens still unclear after front-office changes
The Penguins have Matt Niskanen's attention.
Niskanen, set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, said he will be watching the Penguins' coaching search with great interest.
The 27-year-old defenseman has a close relationship with recently fired coach Dan Bylsma and an even closer one with assistant coach Todd Reirden, whose return to the team is in limbo. New general manager Jim Rutherford said the team's assistant coaches haven't been fired but are permitted to interview with other teams.
“Dan being dismissed won't affect my decision,” Niskanen said. “However, I will pay attention to what the coaching staff is going to look like. It's not the only factor in the decision. But it is a factor.”
The Tribune-Review reported on Monday that John Hynes, coach of the team's AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, will be interviewed as a possible Bylsma replacement. Rutherford said he intends to interview multiple candidates before a decision is made.
He said a new coach will be named in June.
Free agency begins July 1, and if the Penguins have not agreed with Niskanen on a new contract by then, retaining him won't be easy. In what is a marginal free agent class, Niskanen, who is coming off a career season, will be in demand.
Niskanen is right-handed — a plus in the eyes of teams — and flourished during the past couple of seasons. He finished sixth in the NHL with a plus-33 rating this season. He also had 10 goals and 36 assists.
Dallas drafted Niskanen in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Niskanen is not necessarily interested in finding the most lucrative offer. He has said he was “in love” with Pittsburgh and the Penguins.
Rutherford's hiring hasn't altered Niskanen's feelings.
“I don't know a ton about him,” said Niskanen, who added he had a feeling of guilt when the news broke that Bylsma had been fired.
“I really enjoyed playing for (Bylsma),” Niskanen said. “He gave me a chance to get back on track in my career. I learned a lot from him. I will forever be appreciative of what he meant to me as a player.”
Bylsma's dismissal may have upset Niskanen, but it did not shock him.
Niskanen, who has emerged as a vocal leader for the Penguins, knew changes were coming after the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I'm disappointed like everyone else that we didn't achieve more,” he said. “So I understand the change. It's professional sports, so these things happen all the time.”
Niskanen said he expects Bylsma will find a job soon.
“He will be a great coach for another team,” Niskanen said.
Whether Niskanen becomes a great defenseman for another team remains to be seen.
Coaching always has been important to Niskanen.
He credits Reirden with saving his career — a career now at a crossroads.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Crosby most excited by Kessel’s footspeed
- Crosby’s off-ice life hardly reflects that of a superstar
- Sestito ready to fight for job on Penguins
- Penguins defenseman Oleksy brings nasty streak, toughness
- Penguins’ Johnston: Kessel, Crosby likely to open season together
- Amid changes, Penguins’ Crosby excited for upcoming season
- Penguins’ ‘new practice rink’ a multi-faceted sight to see
- For Penguins’ Dupuis, resuming career a risky business
- Crosby, teammates have some input on ice at Penguins’ new facility
- Pens GM: Sundqvist did not have surgery