Penguins coach Johnston takes backseat during free agency
Mike Johnston won't have much input on his roster.
The Penguins new coach was merely an observer during the NHL Draft in Philadelphia last weekend and said he will have little influence over his team's decisions in the free agency period, which begins Tuesday.
Johnston merely will coach the team that general manager Jim Rutherford constructs.
How much will Johnston contribute to free agency?
“None,” he said, explaining that it wouldn't be prudent for a new NHL coach to dictate such decisions. “If I happen to know a player because I've coached him in the past, then sure, I'll say something. But I respect everything Jim (and his staff) do. This is their area of expertise. I respect what they do.”
While the Penguins front office busily will pursue free agents beginning at noon Tuesday — Rutherford said the team possesses four targets — Johnston will be getting to work by analyzing the players already on his roster.
The past week has been a whirlwind for Johnston, who met with Rutherford in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, traveled to Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning for his introductory news conference before immediately returning to Philadelphia for draft weekend.
“I'm going to watch a lot of video (this) week in Pittsburgh,” he said. “I'm going to get video clips and watch every aspect of their games last year, to get familiar with what they did. That's my priority this week.”
While Johnston will merely observe the free agent process, he is hoping for certain types of players when the Penguins go shopping with about $14.6 million in cap space.
He wants the Penguins to play a puck-possession game.
“I want speed out there,” Johnston said. “I want players who think the game. The final component we all want as coaches is grit, people going to the net, winning loose puck battles.”
Johnston, making his first comments since the Penguins traded right wing James Neal to Nashville on Friday, explained that one of the players the Penguins received in return provides a template for the kind of player he favors.
Right wing Patric Hornqvist, who will play with either center Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin next season, fits the bill for Johnston.
“It was primarily (Rutherford) and his staff that made the decision to make the trade,” Johnston said. “But I know Hornqvist a little bit. I know some people in Nashville. They love his work ethic. He's a gritty player, a complete player.”
Losing a former 40-goal scorer like Neal doesn't seem to bother Johnston.
“I don't know these players yet,” Johnston said. “I know Neal was a proven scorer. But with every move the team makes, we're trying to improve. Jim considers these guys (Hornqvist and Nick Spaling) key components to our team. We've added some scoring and grit.”
The Penguins will attempt to add to their forward depth Tuesday. Associate general manager Jason Botterill said the organization plans on using young defensemen — he mentioned Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington — to replace defensemen Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland, none of whom are expected to return.
The youth movement on the blue line will allow the Penguins to spend more money than usual on forwards, with former Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin having already emerged as a target.
Johnston hasn't contacted Malkin yet but is hopeful Malkin and Sidney will be happy with the team's direction.
“I want them to be excited,” Johnston said. “It's key that we add the right pieces to our team to be successful.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter JoshYohe_Trib.
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.
- Crosby, Malkin dazzle fellow All-Stars
- Fleury’s relay team struggles in NHL skills competition
- Fleury’s All-Star play has coincided with joy of being a father
- Injured Crosby, Malkin to miss NHL All-Star Game
- Letang, Malkin miss game versus Blackhawks
- Veterans stabilize Penguins defense with heavy workload, steady play
- Penguins’ Crosby receives injection for lower-body injury