Penguins to resume coaching search after failing to land top choice

Pens GM Jim Rutherford will have to go back to the drawing board in his head coach search. (USATSI)
Pens GM Jim Rutherford will have to go back to the drawing board in his head coach search. (Getty Images)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins search for a new head coach took an interesting and unexpected turn Friday. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford informed Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the team will resume its search for Dan Bylsma’s replacement after failing to reach an agreement with their targeted choice to fill the position.

More from Rossi:

“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.”

Reports, including one from Darren Dreger of TSN, suggested that Willie Desjardins, head coach of recently-crowned American Hockey League champion Texas Stars, was the favorite to land the Penguins job. Rutherford even said Thursday that the search was coming to an end.

Both Kevin Weekes of Hockey Night in Canada and TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that Desjardins was close to signing a deal with the Vancouver Canucks to become their head coach. This may have just been a case of the Penguins getting beaten out for the same coach if Desjardins was in fact the target.

The club has reportedly spoken with upwards of 10 individuals about the vacancy including former NHL head coaches Ron Wilson, Doug MacLean and Marc Crawford, their own AHL head coach John Hynes, New York Rangers assistant coach and former Penguin Ulf Samulsson and others.

If they need to resume the search after that, it doesn’t look terribly great. Also, both the fans and whichever coach the club ends up with will know he was not the Penguins’ first choice. That’s not exactly getting started off on the right foot.

This looks worse as the team waited quite a while before firing head coach Dan Bylsma. They waited to hire their GM before making a decision on Bylsma and Rutherford swiftly gave the head coach his walking papers. Since the beginning of this offseason, the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes have all filled their vacancies with each of the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers appearing close to filling theirs.

With a roster that includes two of the best forwards on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, you would think the Pittsburgh job would be an attractive one. That’s even considering the relative lack of depth in that lineup.

One cause for concern that could limit the list of candidates, however, would be job security. Bylsma had a .670 winning percentage as a head coach in Pittsburgh, but failure to advance past the conference finals in the five seasons after winning the Stanley Cup was cause for handing the head coach his walking papers.

The random nature of the playoffs certainly doesn’t guarantee any team a chance to play for a Stanley Cup every few years. On top of that, sub-par goaltending, or at least inconsistency between the pipes, doesn’t leave many a coach feeling too comfortable about his future.

The Penguins have every right to take their time and find the right fit, but as other organizations fill their open positions with top quality coaches while the Penguins start over certainly doesn’t look good for the new-look front office.

The good news is that there are still several good coaches -- with and without NHL experience -- available to them at this point in the search, but this is a crucial hire for the organization as they look to get back to competing for the Stanley Cup immediately. Not being able to lock down their first choice is definitely a stumble out of the gates.

CBS Sports Writer

Chris Peters has been a hockey writer for CBS Sports since 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for numerous outlets and edited the United States of Hockey blog, covering the sport at all levels. Peters also... Full Bio

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