Early this afternoon, new Penguins GM Jim Rutherford moved to name Mike Johnston the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Johnston, 57, has been coaching since he was 23. Most recently, Johnston was head coach of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, but he has coached at the collegiate, minor league, NHL, and even Olympic level. Johnston is considered responsible for the turn-around of the Portland Winterhawks, who had missed the playoffs three years in a row before his tenure. During his tenure as both head coach and general manager, the Winterhawks made the playoffs for five straight seasons and came away with a Memorial Cup.
Tony Granato, who had been the Penguins assistant coach, was let go today, as was Todd Reirden, but in his place the Penguins named former Penguins player Rick Tocchet and still have one opening for assistant coach open. Staying on the coaching staff will be Jacques Martin, Mike Bales (goaltending coach), and Andy Saucier (video coordinator).
Johnston, however, does come with some controversy. In 2012 he was fined $200,000 and suspended for most of the season due to several violations, such as player contracts including providing families with flights to and from Portland, paying for a player’s summer training regimen, and providing a cell phone to the Winterhawks captain for three seasons.
Still, Johnston hopes to put that behind him in coming to Pittsburgh, where he hopes to build a team around puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace. Johnston has said he feels Pittsburgh is a good fit for his style because they have a core that is strong down the center. He is less interested in stretching out the zone with long passing and more interested in attacking as a unit.
Still, whether the Pittsburgh Penguins buy into Johnston’s coaching strategy is something that remains to be seen. Until then, every Pittsburgh fan is hoping that the Penguins will have all the success of Johnston’s Winterhawks with none of their controversy.