Mike Johnston Hired as New Penguins’ Head Coach

The Pittsburgh Penguins finally have someone that can call the shots from behind the bench.

Mike Johnston, formerly of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks (Canadian junior hockey) has been hired as the next head coach. Former Penguins player Rick Tocchet has been named as an assistant coach (which had been widely speculated on for about a month now).

Johnston was associate head coach in both Vancouver and Los Angeles under Marc Crawford, and he also has Canadian college hockey coaching experience as well.Mike Johnston Penguins

Johnston’s name surfaced late last week after the Penguins were snubbed by new Canucks’ head coach Willie Desjardins in what can only be classified as a major public relations faux pas by management.

That aside, Johnston was introduced to the gathered masses at Consol Energy Center just about one hour ago as of the writing of this article. You can watch the full press conference here.

In watching the presser this afternoon, Johnston certainly came across as hungry and excited to have this opportunity. Easy to understand. After all, who would NOT be excited to coach the team boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (Bill Peters and Willie Desjardins)?

Directly from the Coach’s Corner section from the Winterhawks’ website, here is a bit about how Johnston wants his team to play:

Winterhawks GM & Head Coach Mike Johnston is a regular presenter at hockey coaching clinics all over the world. Throughout the season he’ll be sharing his coaching philosophies with winterhawks.com.
DEVELOPING AN OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN
“ With Considerations For The International Game”

DETERMINE YOUR OFFENSIVE SIDE…..WOULD YOU?

• Pull your goaltender and make a 5-on-3 power play into a 6-on-3 power play?
• Allow your wingers not to come back in the defensive zone…to be a threat in the neutral zone for a quick counter?
• Play with four forwards and one defenceman?
• Pick a smaller, more skilled defenseman over a bigger, grittier, less-skilled defenseman?
• When down by two goals, pull your goaltender with five minutes left?
• Pull your goaltender with eight seconds left in the period and a face-off in their zone?
• Allow your more offensive players to cheat to the offensive side of the puck or will all players have the same defensive responsibilities?
• Use forwards on the power play point?
• Work on plays to score on the penalty kill?
• Allow your defence to jump into the rush indiscriminately?

There is more to this, including Johnston’s Six Keys to Offensive Success, which you can view by clicking the link.

Naming Rick Tocchet as an assistant head coach, according to some, is a bit of a gamble. I can understand why. His track record as a coach is less than stellar. But to be able to appreciate just why Tocchet was brought on board, you have to understand what his role is going to be.

Tocchet isn’t here in Pittsburgh as an X’s and O’s guy. He’s here to bring toughness and grit to a team that really has become a group of whiny little brats when they don’t get their way. Tocchet will change that. It will go from whining and crying to hard work and tenacity. If it doesn’t, then I feel bad for the players during practices.

Johnston also mentioned that he will bring on one more assistant coach. Former assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden have been fired. Jacques Martin and goalie coach Mike Bales have been retained as of now.

The jury is out on Johnston. Some, myself included, aren’t thrilled by the hire. Then again, after looking over the list of candidates for the job, no one really “blew my skirt up.” A few of the things missing from Johnston’s comments as it pertained to player personnel and style of play were grit, toughness, and character. All qualities that Rutherford claimed he was looking for when building this team.

The only glaring issue at this point: he wasn’t even on GM Jim Rutherford’s original list of candidates, let alone being the top choice, due to a perceived “commitment.” That commitment turned out to be nothing more than being under contract with Portland, which he was as of his interviews this week. Just another bad PR gaffe in the so-far short-lived Rutherford era.

I’ll reserve my judgement until after the season starts and wait to see how the team plays going forward. A fair warning for Penguins’ fans: on the surface it seems like Johnston likes to do a lot of what Dan Bylsma wanted to do, which is to be very aggressive offensively. In other words, defense is an afterthought. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to get a Bylsma facsimile. Of course you want to be aggressive offensively, but you have to play defense, too. We’ll see where this goes.

Bottom line, the Penguins got their (third) man.

After Carolina and Vancouver took the first two away.