The Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the most desirable coaching gigs in the National Hockey League, what with a successful team and a strong fan base and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Willie Desjardins is one of the most desirable coaching candidates available this offseason, what with his Calder Cup championship with the Texas Stars and his unique blend of experience (he’s 57 years old) and fresh perspective as someone that’s never been an NHL head coach before.
The Penguins wanted Willie Desjardins. What Willie Desjardins wanted was apparently too much for the Penguins to give.
“The guy I had is going to go in a different direction,” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Team and league sources said Rutherford spent Thursday night and Friday morning meeting with Willie Desjardins, a minor-league coach with only two years of experience as an NHL assistant. Topics discussed included assistant coaches, contract length and Desjardin's possible salary, the sources said.
“We couldn't make it work,” Rutherford said, adding he will start another coaching search next week.
“I'm going to take the weekend to sort some things out,” Rutherford said. “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.”
Is the reason, by chance, that there were inferior candidates but are now back in the mix because Bill Peters chose Carolina and Willie Desjardins appears to have selected Vancouver?
Look, the Penguins will end up with a fine coach, either from the newbie (Ulf Samuelsson) or overly familiar (Marc Crawford, Ron Wilson) categories. And this coach will lead them … well, not necessarily to the same heights as Dan Bylsma, whose regular season success will be difficult to replicate. But hey, maybe they can figure out that playoff thing that Dan struggled with so much.
But this public rejection is jarring. Jim Rutherford is hired as general manager, and in his first independent act – Bylsma was fired by ownership, remember – he has to admit that the best man for the job didn’t want the job. This sort of thing might fly in Raleigh, but an AHL coach just turned down the chance to coach Sidney Crosby on a team that went to Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
Then again, the former coach and GM were both turfed after that. So maybe contract length was a sticking point.