| Sports

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

New candidate emerges in Pens' coaching search

Penguins/NHL Videos

Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 3:15 p.m.

General manager Jim Rutherford has somebody in mind to become the Penguins' next coach.

That somebody did not interview with Rutherford last week. That leaves Ulf Samuelsson and John Hynes as unlikely contenders.

“My concentration right now is on a guy that would have been on my original list, but I was told he had a commitment,” Rutherford said Tuesday.

Rutherford would not identify his candidate, but team and league sources told the Tribune-Review that Mike Johnston has interviewed with Rutherford. Johnston is the general manager and coach for Portland of the Western Hockey League, where he worked with Penguins top prospect Derrick Pouliot.

His Portland clubs qualified for the WHL playoffs in three of his four full seasons, but he also was suspended for most of the 2012-13 season after a league investigation found Portland violated rules by providing benefits to players and their families.

Among Portland's team penalties were a $200,000 fine and forfeiture of first-round selections in the bantam drafts from 2014-17. Portland ownership and Johnston disputed the severity of the punishment, but Johnston also accepted it.

Johnston could not be reached for comment.

Johnston was an NHL assistant coach with Vancouver, and then Los Angeles from 1999-2008, and he has had management and coaching experience at various levels throughout Hockey Canada. His Portland squads were known for winning with an up-tempo style.

Johnston also interviewed for the Vancouver opening, which went to Willie Desjardins — Rutherford's first confirmed choice to replace Dan Bylsma, who was fired June 6.

Desjardins was among eight candidates originally to interview for the Penguins' job. Bill Peters was hired by Carolina. Another, former NHL coach Marc Crawford, said he is not interested in returning to the league next season.

Samuelsson, a former Penguins defenseman and current assistant with the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers, and Hynes, coach of the Penguins' AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, also interviewed with Rutherford, as did former NHL coach Ron Wilson.

Johnston shares a home Canadian province with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Johnston is from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Crosby was born in Cole Harbour and owns a home in Halifax.

Crosby was in Las Vegas for the NHL Awards show Tuesday. Rutherford confirmed Tuesday that he has had a “good … in-person” meeting with Crosby.

Rutherford said details of meetings with players would remain confidential.

Also confidential is his list of coaching candidates, though Rutherford said he remains on track to fill the position by July 1, the start of NHL free agency.

Rutherford is in Philadelphia for this weekend's NHL Entry Draft. He did not rule out making a hire before the event.

“It has to be a guy that has good character, good leadership qualities, a guy that can handle the players we have, and a guy that can make adjustments during a game or a series. That's very, very important,” Rutherford said. “I still have a guy in my group of names that's capable of doing that.”

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




Show commenting policy

Most-Read Penguins

  1. Penguins boast several good blueliners with point-producing skills
  2. Red Wings beat Penguins, 2-1, in preseason opener
  3. Penguins notebook: Crosby gets early work
  4. Penguins forward Megna’s skill set might be perfect fit
  5. Inside the glass: Penguins’ Martin, Ehrhoff look comfortable together
  6. Penguins’ new 3rd jersey similar to early 1990s version
  7. Penguins notebook: Carcillo hopes to give team physical edge
  8. Crosby, Malkin to miss start of Penguins camp
  9. Penguins’ Rutherford hopes to raise Cup again
  10. Penguins notebook: Hornqvist, Spaling will lead by example
  11. Finally healthy, Letang looking to make his presence felt as a leader
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.