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As top target balks, Penguins' coaching search continues

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 2:57 p.m.

General manager Jim Rutherford still is searching for the Penguins' next head coach.

His top target turned down the chance to inherit a perennial high-payroll playoff team led by former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — albeit one that ownership publicly said has underachieved by not returning to the Stanley Cup Final since 2009.

“The guy I had is going in a different direction,” Rutherford said Friday, adding he would take the weekend to “sort some things out.”

Rutherford declined to identify his choice for coach, but team and league sources told the Tribune-Review that man was Willie Desjardins, a hot commodity after leading the AHL's Texas Stars to the Calder Cup this past season.

Rutherford said the coaching search will resume Monday, and candidates will include those who did not interview this week.

“I'll work off the same list I had, but it will be expanded by two or three names that for whatever reason weren't considered for interviews the last time,” Rutherford said. “We need somebody that wants to be here and really wants to win.”

Eight candidates interviewed for the job. Rutherford said Thursday that “the process is coming to an end” and that he had made a choice. Rutherford also said Thursday he was “still checking a few points with the lead candidate.”

Desjardins, 57, met with Rutherford in Pittsburgh on Thursday night and Friday morning, the sources said. Topics discussed included contract length, salary and assistant coaches, the sources said.

Aside from Desjardins, the sources said other coach candidates included former NHL coaches Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford and league assistants Ulf Samuelsson (New York) and Bill Peters (Detroit).

Peters agreed to a three-year contract with Carolina on Thursday.

Another candidate to interview for the Penguins job was John Hynes, coach of their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the past four seasons. Hynes has a good rapport with Penguins associate general manager Jason Botterill and assistants Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin.

The sources said Jeff Daniels, coach of Carolina's AHL affiliate; Tom Renney, an associate coach with Detroit; and Mike Keenan, a veteran NHL coach coming off a championship season in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, had not interviewed with Rutherford. Also, the sources said Rutherford had targeted Los Angeles assistant John Stevens, but the Penguins were not granted permission to interview him. Stevens was promoted to Los Angeles' associate coach this week.

Interviews for the Penguins' job began Monday, and they were not limited to head coaching candidates. Rutherford also spoke with former Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet about a possible assistant coaching position and Carolina assistant Rod Brind'Amour about a role within the organization, the sources said. Brind'Amour, who had specialized in player development with Carolina, was promoted to a full-time assistant with the Hurricanes on Friday.

Rutherford fired former coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins' leader in regular-season and playoff wins, June 6. Rutherford said then he concurred with ownership's opinion that Bylsma was no longer the right coach for the Penguins. Rutherford also said then that Bylsma's former assistants — Tony Granato, Todd Reirden, Mike Bales and Jacques Martin — remain under contract but are free to interview for other NHL jobs.

A new coach will be in place before July 1, the start of free agency, Rutherford reiterated Friday.

The NHL Entry Draft is next weekend, and extending the coaching search into next week provides a challenge for Rutherford. The Penguins' window to exclusively negotiate with their 11 impending unrestricted free agents begins Wednesday, and several agents for those players said their clients want to know the identity of the next coach before entering into serious discussions.

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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