After several weeks and much anticipation, General Manager Jim Rutherford and company finally put an end to the seemingly endless Penguins coaching search today when Mike Johnston was installed as the 21st head coach in team history, and the third of captain Sidney Crosby’s career.
Johnston comes to Pittsburgh after five years behind the bench of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, one of the top Junior-A clubs in Canada. He also spent nine years as an associate head coach for the Vancouver Canucks from 1999-2008.
Rutherford also named former Penguins forward and current Philadelphia Flyers broadcaster Rick Tocchet as one of Johnston’s assistants.
I’ll be completely honest, I, like most Penguins fans, know very little about Johnston as a coach other than what I’ve read the past few days.
I know that he prefers and up-tempo, puck possession style of game which worked out well for him in Portland. His teams always performed well, and he helped develop a laundry list of talented NHL prospects like Penguins first-rounder Derrick Pouliot, Predators defenseman Seth Jones, and Minnesota forward Nino Niederrieter.
Right off the bat, that style sounds like one that would be taylor-made to this Penguins team, a group with two of the best players in the world in Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin, as well as a glut of talented, young, puck moving defenseman ready to break through into the NHL.
Other than that, I really can’t say anything else until I see his work in action later this fall.
He could be a match made in heaven, or he could be a one trick pony much like his predecessor Dan Bylsma and fall flat on his face, but right now the jury is still out. Truly, as they say, only time will tell.
On the other hand, Tocchet is a guy whose role has been made abundantly clear, both from today’s press conference and from his prior track record as a coach in the NHL. With Johnston serving as the tactician managing the X’s and O’s, Tocchet will serve has the disciplinarian, the so called “bad cop”.
No doubt that Johnston and Tocchet will take contrasting styles into the locker room. After all, that’s what they were brought there to do. Bylsma, along with his assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden, were often seen as the “get along gang”, a trio that did little instill healthy levels of fear and respect amongst the Penguins players.
With Tocchet, that won’t happen. He played the game (not that that matters a ton) and won a Cup (with Pittsburgh, I might add). I have little doubt in my mind that he will be a more effective assistant in terms of holding players accountable for their actions than either Reirden or Granato.
Big changes are happening in Pittsburgh, with more on the horizon. Now with the question of leadership out of the way, management can focus on the upcoming draft, any potential trades, and a free-agency season that will help them shape this Penguins team into the group we watch of the next nine months.