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AHL's Desjardins latest Penguins candidate; interviews near end

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 1:06 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers fullback Will Johnson catches a pass during practice Wednesday, June 11, 2014, on the South Side.

Another potential candidate has emerged in the Penguins' search for a head coach.

Willie Desjardins, who guided the Texas Stars to the AHL title Tuesday, is a target to be interviewed, multiple team and league sources told the Tribune-Review.

The sources also said Carolina assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour is being sought to join the Penguins in some capacity but not as head coach. Brind'Amour also is a player development coach with the Hurricanes. He was the captain of Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup squad.

Bill Guerin, the Penguins' previous player development coach, is now an assistant general manager.

Desjardins spent two seasons as Dallas' associate coach before taking over the Stars' AHL affiliate in 2012.

Aside from Desjardins, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has completed interviews with all of his candidates, the sources said. The other candidates include former NHL coaches Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford; assistants Ulf Samuelsson (New York Rangers) and Bill Peters (Detroit); and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes.

The Penguins had identified Los Angeles assistant and former Philadelphia coach John Stevens as a candidate. However, the Kings have not provided permission for Stevens to interviews, the sources said.

Also, the sources said Rutherford interviewed former Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, who could join the Penguins as an assistant.

Rutherford said Wednesday that a big factor in choosing the next coach is “how our top players are handled” — referring specifically to franchise centerpieces Sidney Crosby, the team captain, and Evgeni Malkin, the top alternate.

“Whoever our head coach is has to have the right relationship, the right communication, and be able to get the most out of all our players, especially those top ones,” Rutherford said.

However, Rutherford said Crosby and Malkin do not need to “like” their coach. Neither will have input in the decision, Rutherford said.

“The coach doesn't have to be the players' friend,” he said. “He has a job to do. They have a job to do. The coach and players only have to respect each other.”

Rutherford said he has “talked briefly” with Crosby, who is spending time in Southern California. Rutherford said he has yet to speak with Malkin, who is famously elusive during the summer.

Rutherford said he remains on target to hire a coach by July 1, the start of free agency.

The Penguins are not committed to a long length for the next coach's contract, Rutherford said. He also said previous NHL head coaching experience was not a prerequisite.

“Contract length shouldn't have anything to do with it … (and) there are guys that have experience that do good jobs, and guys that have none that have done good jobs,” Rutherford said. “Our next coach has to have a presence. He has to command respect from the players and be able to adjust during games and (playoff) series.”

Notes: Initial conversations are underway with select impending unrestricted free agents. There are 11, and Rutherford said he should know by early next week which ones the Penguins will try to sign. … The Penguins will not use either of two available compliance buyouts on players with contracts that were signed under the old labor deal, Rutherford said. …Qualifying offers will be made to each of the club's five restricted free agents, Rutherford said.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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