The question regarding who will be behind the bench for the Pittsburgh Penguins next season has finally been answered. There were many rumored candidates, but it’s being reported by multiple sources that Mike Johnston, head coach of the Portland Winterhawks (WHL), will be named as Dan Bylsma‘s replacement. The deal is reportedly for three years.
Some people may be surprised that the Penguins have chosen a coach from the junior level to lead a team that consists of 2014 MVP Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, but Johnston is more than capable of taking over the role. In an interview with 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger put to bed any claims that Johnston was not credible for the position.
“[He] is highly-regarded by most NHL executives, if not all … He’s been around a long time. This is a guy that has been around the NHL game, he’s been around the hockey community for a long, long time, and he’s qualified to be a head coach.”
The Penguins need a fresh start and a new mindset behind the bench in order to be successful, and Johnston has produced many offensive weapons during his time in Portland. With a new voice in the locker room and in the press box, the Penguins will be rejuvenated and ready to make a fresh run at the Stanley Cup.
The biggest question will be whether or not Johnston can get through to Crosby, which is something that Bylsma could not do during the playoffs. Crosby’s constant bickering with Bylsma seemed to cause a lot of turmoil on the bench and could have been a reason for his scoring drought.
Johnston has big shoes to fill and will hopefully be able to unite a locker room that was obviously divided throughout the postseason. There are likely many more moves to be made by the Pens’ new GM Jim Rutherford, so it’s difficult to predict the roster that Johnston will be working with. That said, Penguins fans won’t settle for anything less than a Stanley Cup in 2014-15.
Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow for continuous updates on the NHL offseason.