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What We Learned: Pittsburgh Penguins’ clueless coaching search


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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Here's the problem with the Penguins' coaching search these days: The best candidate out there is the guy they just fired.

Here's brand new GM Jim Rutherford on June 19: “I've zeroed in on one guy.”

Here's brand new GM Jim Rutherford on June 20: “I met with one of the candidates that I thought very highly of, and thought that he was our guy, but after spending [Thursday] night and again [Friday] morning talking to him, on both sides it just didn't match up.”

In the time between, Pittsburgh's field dropped to just the one candidate, the overall field of qualified and available candidates narrowed considerably. Detroit assistant Bill Peters took over in Carolina, Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins — most educated guesses say he was the “one guy” on whom Rutherford had “zeroed in” — is going to sign with Vancouver, and Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant became the new man in Florida. And what Rutherford didn't say there is that apparently, Desjardins told them no, and not so much the other way around.

So here's Rutherford again on June 20: “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. We need somebody that wants to be here and really wants to win.”

The Penguins have already interviewed eight people for the job. Now they reopen the search and kick the tires on names like Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson and NHL head coach washout retreads like Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford. They've even asked after Doug MacLean, who routinely displays his modern hockey ignorance on the radio, as if the record as GM in Columbus weren't enough evidence of such.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi also reported that the two or three names that might be added to the interview list are Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels (whose team has missed the playoffs two of the last three seasons), former Rangers and Oilers coach Tom Renney, and Mike Keenan.

Mike Keenan!

With all that in mind, though, this just seems to be par for the course for the Penguins at this point. Remember, Rutherford wasn't the guy they wanted to hire as GM in the first place. Penguins ownership asked Pat Brisson, Sidney Crosby's super agent, if he wanted the job and he told them no. Then Pierre McGuire was apparently their next choice, and that didn't work out either. So it fell to Rutherford, who outright acknowledged in his introductory press conference that he's there for two or three years, and then he's out, to make way for someone like Jason Botterill, Bill Guerin or Tom Fitzgerald.

Now they're on to at least their second choice for their new coach, if not third or perhaps even fourth (depending upon whom they fancied after Desjardins). One has to wonder if perhaps Rutherford's admission of non-longevity in his job is in any way contributing to this lack of interest. You can at least get what Rutherford is saying about coaches who don't want to win, because if you were to pick the team most likely to win the Cup out of Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Carolina, and Florida, you'd have to say the Penguins would be favorites there. You'd also have to say, though, that they all have just about no chance to do it, so the most of “no chance” still isn't very much at all.

But at the same time, maybe coaches want the chance to win a little further on down the road where they can be relatively assured of their new organizations' structural integrity. In Pittsburgh, the guy that hires them now is by his own admission guaranteed to not be around just a short while down the road. And that short while also just so happens to coincide with the definitive end of the primes of the two players — Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, obviously — who best position the Penguins for success to begin with.

Head coaching in the NHL is a job that comes with little security, and these days it appears that even one bad year is enough to get you canned (ask John Tortorella). But having a guaranteed two- or three-year time limit on the guy that hired you being in office puts an awful big clock ticking down to midnight above your head, essentially saying there's no guarantee his replacement will want whomever they hire today to be their guy going forward.

And let's keep in mind here that these are decisions predicated on ownership's haste to appear as though they were doing something to improve the team when they were, in fact, not. Ray Shero had been doing a middling to not-good job for years and had to go, sure, but with no obvious choices to replace him in the offing, ownership went with this compromise passage that resulted in what has so far been a catastrophe; the guy who built the Carolina Hurricanes running things for a contender? Good lord. And now this coaching disaster. Maybe they get a guy who can win out of all this anyway, but they essentially ensured they weren't getting the best men for the job with their current setup.

One cannot imagine that was in the minds of Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle when they made the decision to can everyone back in mid-May. But here we are anyway, in a fix in which “a third-choice already-lame-duck GM hiring a second-choice coach” is now the Penguins' best possible outcome.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Jonas Hiller getting the boot in favor of John Gibson seems a fairly wise decision on the Ducks' part. If only because Hiller is pretty well just okay, having not exceeded league average save percentage in any of the last three seasons.

Boston Bruins: Wait, who's saying the Bruins should completely overhaul the team? Everyone on Earth has to think their loss to Montreal was a total fluke, right?

Buffalo Sabres: A lot of kids who are eligible for the draft this year have connections to the Sabres, and since they have nine picks this year, a whole lot more are about to be in the same boat.

Calgary Flames: Flames GM Brad Treliving on potential transactions this offseason: “If you’re asking, ‘Could this be a wow summer in the NHL?’ I think the answer is yes. I don’t remember a spring as volatile as this one – where you have a bunch of new guys like me, trying to figure out what’s going on internally in their organizations. The system now, when you talk about a cap going up to where it’s being speculated being at [around $70-million U.S.], it lends itself to being a busy, active summer.” The Flames will follow up the “wow” summer with another “oof” regular season.

Carolina Hurricanes: Sure they have their new coach locked down, but there's still a lot left for Ron Francis to do this summer to make the actual team not-stink. Good luck with that.

Chicago Blackhawks: So no one really cares that with all this Redskins talk, it's totally okay that there's still a team called the “Blackhawks” with a First Nations warrior as their logo, huh? Cool.

Colorado Avalanche: Holy hell, Patrick Roy. Saying the Avs are “not that far away” on defense from the Los Angeles Kings. Hoo boy.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Cool look here at how the Blue Jackets go about trying to find high-quality picks in shallow drafts. You know, like this year's draft.

Dallas Stars: Everything I read about Rich Peverley's recovery is at once hopeful and very sad. You hate to see this happen.

Detroit Red Wings: Lots of interesting quotes from the Wings about new undrafted signee Tomas Nosek, who's going to be given a chance to compete for an NHL job. That kind of thing didn't happen very much in the past.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers are actively trying to sign Nikita Nikitin, after they traded for his rights because they could really use an NHL-level defenseman, but if he's smart he'll go to free agency.

Florida Panthers: Lots of implications out there that the Panthers would have hired Dan Bylsma instead of Gerard Gallant were it not for (surprise!) Bylsma's asking price.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings addresses the crowd during the Los Angeles Kings Victory Parade And Rally on June...

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings addresses the crowd during the Los Angeles …

Los Angeles Kings: Proof hockey is finally becoming mainstream: Dustin Brown is among the athletes being granted early testing access to a new Apple iWatch. We've really made it!

Minnesota Wild: Craig Leipold likes the direction his team is moving in. That makes sense.

Montreal Canadiens: Leafs/Habs on opening night. Can't wait.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The Preds are one of the top workplaces in Nashville. The free ability to look at Seth Jones whenever you want is a serious perk.

New Jersey Devils: It seems as if the Devils owners are considering a move to buy Premier League team Aston Villa. That means they'd own the 76ers, the Devils, and the Villains? That's some Illuminati stuff right here.

New York Islanders: The Isles might trade the No. 5 pick for immediate NHL help. Gotta move to Brooklyn as a decently competitive team, I guess.

New York Rangers: The Rangers have already earmarked pretty much all of that freed-up Brad Richards money for their RFAs, which makes sense. Doesn't mean they're going to be a lot better though.

Ottawa Senators: The Sens open next season in Nashville. Jason Spezza is not expected to be in attendance.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ron Hextall wants to build the Flyers back to competitive status through the draft. It's a novel idea no one in Philadelphia has ever considered.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Red Wings are still drawing little hearts around pictures of Keith Yandle and then putting them in a shoebox under the bed. Get over it.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins might bring aboard Manny Malhotra to shore up the bottom six. Of 469 skaters to get at least 900 even-strength minutes with the score close over the last three seasons, his CF% (40.2) is dead last. While a lot of that is due to his extremely tough zone starts, he's nonetheless not shoring up anything.

San Jose Sharks: I love that the NHL is making San Jose be the team the Kings play the night they raise their Stanley Cup banner. Oh man is that great.

St. Louis Blues: Extension talks between the Blues and Steve Ott have “gone quiet,” presumably because of how Steve Ott is terrible.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jon Cooper should win the Jack Adams but he's not going to. Next time you wanna win, Cooper, you should try being a Hall of Fame goalie whose team got super duper lucky for an entire season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs will host a three-day Fan Fest in early September. No word yet on whether they will have an “Are you a better coach than Randy Carlyle” game, but the answer to that question will be yes in 100 percent of cases.

Vancouver Canucks: Apparently Ryan Kesler will only go to Pittsburgh or Chicago. Good luck, chief.

Washington Capitals: Weird question about whether Brian MacLellan will be as eager to bring aboard European players as George McPhee was. Uhh, who cares? He should be more eager to bring aboard good players, something McPhee seemed loath to do. Doesn't matter where they're from.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have no right wing depth at all. Let's try putting one of the best defensemen in the league up there again!

Play of the Weekend

Gold Star Award

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CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22: Chicagoans gather in Grant Park to watch the United States take on Portugal in a Group G World Cup match on June 22, 2014 in Ch...

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22: Chicagoans gather in Grant Park to watch the United States take on Portugal in a Group G …


Drawing Portugal isn't SO bad.

Minus of the Weekend  

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NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30: Darnell Nurse poses after being selected number seven over all in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers during the 2013 NHL Dra...

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30: Darnell Nurse poses after being selected number seven over all in the first round by the …

Great quotes from the Edmonton Oilers' head amateur scout about how well they've done the last few years. Real good guys! You nailed all the No. 1 picks so we'll just ignore the other six rounds.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “tmack224” is on top of it.

To Winnipeg:
2nd overall
Tyler Myers
Andrey Makarov/Gustov Possler/William Carrier

To Buffalo:
Evander Kane
Alexander Burmistrov
9th overall
2015 1st

I experiment with where I put them on my dresser.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here

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