Pittsburgh Penguins: Changes are Coming

The Pittsburgh Penguins have reached a pivotal point in the 2015-16 season and unfortunately, they’re a team in disarray. It’s December, which means the standings begin to matter and the experimental part of the season has passed. It’s becoming more and more obvious that change is needed in Pittsburgh. In fact, in a very candid discussion with Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.Com, Jim Rutherford indicated that he had some things to look at due to the Penguins’ struggles.

“Well, we’re going to have to do something to change things up. We’ve definitely underachieved. We’re in a position where we shouldn’t be right now and we know it. I am going to have to take a look at a few things. Something needs to change.”

Though vague, you can read a lot into what Rutherford had to say after another disappointing loss, this time at the hands of the also-underachieving Anaheim Ducks. By change, does he mean a coaching change is on the horizon? Is he simply talking about lineup changes, which he also discussed with Yohe during the same conversation? At this point, it’s tough to gauge what the outcome will be. But, one thing is for certain and it’s that Rutherford shoots from the hip and is normally very honest about his intentions with the media. He has followed through on almost everything he has cited as planned moves, so there’s no reason to expect anything different this time around.

Johnston’s Player Usage Hasn’t Gone Unnoticed

Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL, Hockey, Mike Johnston
(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

My biggest gripe with Johnston has always been his use of the Penguins’ personnel. The fact that he is so disconnected from what the management team wants in Pittsburgh doesn’t come as a surprise, which is another topic I’ve recently touched on. This team was built around offense and Johnston continues to neutralize their firepower by employing a defense-first mindset. He also continues to deploy the likes of Rob Scuderi and Pascal Dupuis, despite their inability to be a factor at this point in their respective careers. Neither Daniel Sprong nor Adam Clendening has lit the world on fire during their short amount of playing time but both are promising young talents. And, Rutherford isn’t happy that they aren’t seeing the ice. Per Yohe’s article following last night’s contest, Rutherford had the following to say regarding Sprong…

“I have been urging the coach to get him in there. We need him in there so we can get a better look at him.”

While some view his statements as throwing Johnston under the bus, I see them more as an honest assessment and a message to his head coach. Does he need to make those comments publicly? Probably not. But, maybe he hasn’t gotten the response he wanted from internal conversations and is now taking things a bit further in order to put some heat on Johnston and his staff. I personally enjoy how candid and honest Rutherford is with the media. And, if the results aren’t there, which is obvious from Pittsburgh’s recent performances, why not take it a step further?

Change is Needed Behind the Bench for the Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s tough to replace your head coach at this point in the season, especially when there aren’t many impressive options available. But at the same time, the Penguins can’t continue down this path. Removing Johnston and promoting Rick Tocchet or Jaques Martin isn’t what’s best for business right now, as the Penguins need a full shakeup. From the perspective of internal candidates, Mike Sullivan fits the bill more than anyone directly affiliated with the NHL club right now and my assumption is that he’ll be promoted if and when the trigger is pulled. Sullivan is currently the head coach for the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre and though they’ve also experienced some difficulty as of late, the team is scoring and playing a brand of hockey consistent with whats expected of the NHL club.

For me, Rutherford’s comments aren’t necessarily saying that a coaching change is a foregone conclusion. But, Johnston’s seat sure is getting warmer by the minute. While many will look at what’s happening in the organization as chaotic and unconstructive, I view this as a GM offering a wake-up call to his head coach in a public forum. This isn’t the first time it has happened in the NHL and definitely won’t be the last. It’s up to Johnston to respond and if he fails, which I believe he will, there will be more than just roster changes on the horizon. The Penguins can’t afford to waste anymore time of the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin era.