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Penguins hire Mike Johnston

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

The Penguins have hired Mike Johnston to be their new head coach, Rob Rossi reports. The team will hold a press conference at Consol Energy Center at 12:30 p.m. to introduce him.

Here’s Johnston’s official page on the Portland Winterhawks site.

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog.

I’ll have a column off this, obviously, but this also will be Topic A on my TribLIVE Radio show today, 2-3 p.m. Call me at 412-320-7925. Feel free to email if you can’t call, but I’d rather hear from you.

My initial thoughts on this hire will be shared on the show. I could share what I think at this very second, but I’d much rather attend the press conference and gather more information first. That’s always fairest.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. SeanAY says:

    I’ll lead off with a question: do Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle show up for this announcement?

  2. espo33 says:

    If they do it will be in the back and they won’t talk or take any questions. They will direct it to Ruth’s.

  3. Poole says:

    No they don’t. The question is, will JR and Johnston be there? I really want to hear from them and not Morehouse.

  4. espo33 says:

    I hope this guy hasn’t been reading any of the local or national media reports about how poorly this off season has been handled from the GM firing all the way to his hiring…

    I don’t know anything about him or what he did in LA for all those years (the team didn’t win, I know that…), but this just sounds like a move FLA, TB, CAR, NYI, DAL, OTT, TOR, CLG, or EDM makes. Not that the Pens. I guess lets see what happens with the staff and if he knows any of the Asst’s. My guess is Granato is gone with Tocchet taking his place.

    And I am surprised I didn’t see anything in this paper saying Brind’Amour got a promotion last week in Car and is staying there. I know he was another guy ticketed to come here per Ruth’s.

  5. Milo Hamilton says:

    Mario’s golf tournament is today. No chance.

  6. Lasedog8 says:

    I don’t think you will see Lemieux. He has his golf tournament today.

  7. Rich says:

    No. Mario’s foundation golf outing is today. Can’t blame them as this is set up many months in advance.

  8. John O'Rourke says:

    Are they going to name Crosby an associate coach?

  9. Joeyhockey says:

    I also heard that rock tocceht is going to be an assistant coach. This is thru his tv partner with Comcast. He had posted that on twitter this morning

  10. DJ says:

    Heard he’s a great communicator.

    Keeping a very open mind.

  11. Miss Inga Molar says:

    Wondering about the new Pens coach’s past violations?
    Excerpt from a blog:

    “What follows is a summary of the league’s findings, and a statement from Johnston:

    The Winterhawks were found to have committed the following violations:

    • A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program
    • Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland
    • Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen
    • The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

    The WHL’s audit found no violations involving monetary payments made to players, their families or agents, or any violations related to the league’s educational packages.

    “After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” said Johnston.

    “We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which were the majority of the infractions,” continued Johnston. “We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.””

  12. SeanAY says:

    Ah. Did not know that.

    I GUESS he’s forgiven.

  13. hockeymonster says:

    Appropriate considering the country club is back in session.

  14. Jeff Deburgh says:

    I’m not sure why people expect Mario or Burkle to show there faces at these things. They hire people to make these kind of announcements. If it was something related to ownership, I could see reason for them being there. Not for a coaching hire. I’m not trying to be a wise a$$. Just curious as to why people expect it

  15. Michael Farraj says:

    Anxious to hear your take of this Dejan after the press conference.

  16. Poole says:

    I read a lot about “The Winterhawks” and nothing about Johnston. Still not a big deal for me but was he the real culprit or just the figurehead?

  17. espo33 says:

    Well Ruth’s loves to talk about whatever is going on in his hockey mind. He still thinks he is in CAR where people don’t have an interest in the sport, so I am sure he will talk for a long time.

    Morehouse just loves to talk period. So we won’t get a break from him…

  18. espo33 says:

    Or you could blame them because they knew this was set up today and the way the last week has gone they said just announce it today, so we can deflect all questions to Ruth’s and them just wanting to focus on the golf outing.

  19. Poole says:

    I hope we learn all the assistants today as well.

    I, like DJ, have a very open mind and I’ll go out and say it…I really like this hire. I don’t agree with the process or saying “he was our number 1 guy but he thought he had commitments, blah blah”. I like the end result. Hes an X and O coach. The staff will include a bad cop if we need one. The Penguins will score more goals. They will be exciting. He is a new age thinker and values puck possession and shots on goal. And most importantly, guys like Scuderi, Glass, and Adams will have no value in his eyes.

  20. DJ says:

    Yeah, whatever.

    Let’s see what he does in the NHL. Flights are paid for and I assume everyone has a cell phone by now.

  21. CHH says:

    I can answer for him: Tune in to his TribLive radio show this afternoon!

  22. Poole says:

    And yes, that might sound similar to Disco Dan. But most likely he will trust the youth much more. And not have a love affair with the 4th line grinders and veterans.

    And as a bonus, his exposure to the juniors will be valuable as a voice in the draft room. Has an eye for young talent.

  23. Prestige Worldwide says:

    “Johnston is either 56 or 57″


  24. chethejet1 says:

    The issue to me is will a head coach change the dynamics of the franchise? Are Crosby and Malkin willing to accept the needed roster changes and possible style to be a better all around team.

  25. SeanAY says:

    You’re actually, truly, really making yourself miserable over this, huh?

  26. Jandy says:

    Not yet…that will come after his next concussion

  27. Prestige Worldwide says:

    You can go to the bank on the fact that he won’t like it.

  28. hockeymonster says:

    Oh trust me, i don’t need this to make myself miserable however i’m truly underwhelmed. For good reason…

  29. Andrew says:

    Pretty sure hiring a coach because he played for your team two decades ago is the definition of country club behaviour.

  30. Stephen Powanda says:

    I like the hire and hope Rick Tocchet is on board. We need new faces. I like the idea of guys going to the net, now acquire those players! We need to trade some older D Men and bring up youth and sink or swim. Either way I’ll be a Pens fan and I have since 67!

  31. Mike A. says:

    I think, based on the fact that Rutherford essentially confirmed that ownership forced Bylsma out, makes it reasonable to want to hear from ownership, so the fan base can conclude for themselves whether the people they “hire to make these kind of announcements” actually have the authority, or if they are merely having their strings pulled by the men “behind the curtain”.

  32. Andrew says:

    That reads like prerequisite experience for any potential college basketball or football coach applicant.

  33. Andrew says:

    I don’t really care who the Penguins’ coach is, as long as it is not some dreg who wants to collapse around the net and block shots, which doesn’t seem to describe Johnston. So while Rutherford seemed like a fairly uninspiring hire, it is much more important what he does on the player personal front.

    The Penguins need depth, they need a quality third line so the Crosby’s line doesn’t have to be deployed as the checking line. I’m not sure Sutter is the answer, though he will likely be inexpensive so that is a plus. If the Pens want to trade Neal fine, but when Ryan Callahan is being signed for six years with a cap hit of $5.8 million the Neal’s contract is not an issue. Niskanen will be overpaid compared to his ability, I’m glad it will be another team.

  34. theplanisworking says:

    Interesting, Mom Theresa.
    Wonder what the Reverend thinks?

    Or Face-off factor? ;)

  35. DJ says:

    “Go to the net.”

    Hope that’s Chapter 1 in Johnston’s book “Simply The Best — Insights and Strategies From Great Hockey Coaches.”

  36. Eric Bowser says:

    Not a fan, of course I wasn’t of Desjardins either.

    I’ll be very interested in the coaching staff and style of play. If Johnston employs the same style as his WHL team in Portland, then I’m fine with the quick, aggressive style.

    Problem is, we don’t have a quick team, not aggressive, lack size to drive net and create chaos for the goalie and defensemen.

    Rutherford has work to do to make this work. I’m highly skeptical.

  37. hockeymonster says:

    Depth is ultra important but if the last few post seasons taught us anything it’s that Structure is just as key. Really hope we don’t look like his portland teams.

  38. Poole says:

    “Niskanen will be overpaid compared to his ability, I’m glad it will be another team.”

    Amen to that.

    Neal and Letang, yes Letang, contracts are really fair market value. Nikita Nikitin just got $4.5M. These are really good contracts for players of their caliber.

    I agree that the player personnel moves will be the real determining factor in whether this team gets over the playoff hump. And Neal, while on a good contract, could be the perfect place to start. Get multiple good pieces for Neal. Keep Letang/Martin and play the youth on D.

  39. Arriba Wilver says:


  40. theplanisworking says:

    I am willing to give Mr. Johnston the benefit of the doubt. He might be a good coach, or he could ‘stink’.

    However, I will not give Misters LeMieux and Burkle the benefit of the doubt for this clown-car of an offseason. All that is missing is the size 19 red shoes, and pasty makeup. Shero and Bylsma needed to go, but the whole process has been screwed up.

    Just a few short years ago, the pens were held up as a model franchise in many areas. Now, they have become the Washington Generals. And the 2 men at the top have to shoulder most, if not all of the blame for that.

    (No truth to the rumor that Dejan smashed 23 bobbleheads because ULF wasn’t hired)………… ;)

  41. cobra39 says:

    I disagree with DK on this. I have no problem with hiring a HC with vast minor league and international hockey experience as opposed to a former NHL player with far less experience. How can a guy attain a resume that Johnston has without knowing hockey and, more importantly, knowing how to handle players?

    As for the argument that NHL players won’t respect him, players will either resepct a guy or not based upon how he handles himself and on what he knows. This is so whether he played 10 years in the NHL or never played.

    I can’t help but think of Jim Leyland when reading about guys like Johnston.

  42. Poole says:

    Right. That’s actually my favorite part of the hire. The new regime will not (hopefully) pigeonhole players into systems they dont work. This guy won’t have any use for those bottom 6 disasters last season.

  43. Jandy says:

    Faceoff Factor is still working on the Draft Scene. I hope to see something up there soon on Johnston.

    Revvie won’t say too much either way on Johnston, as he really doesn’t know too much about him…not that I do either. ;)

  44. Eric Bowser says:

    I don’t really care about the playing experience or head coach experience. I want to know, do players respect him. Will he employ a system that will take advantage of the skills on the roster?

    That’s a huge issue that I’m hesitant to believe will work unless Rutherford acquires men who can play quick.

    Craig Adams and Rob Scuderi do not belong on the roster.

  45. theplanisworking says:

    Never stopped you two before …….. ;)

    (or was that too irascible??)

  46. Jandy says:


    Good to see ya, Planimal :)

  47. Bill Eggert says:


  48. cobra39 says:

    No argument about Craig, but I think people should wait to see how Scuderi plays in training camp. A broken ankle is not a minor injury, especially at his age. His steep decline in play may be attributable to a weak ankle, which in turns creates a weak leg and poor skating.

    Then again, Scuderi might just stink, perid.

  49. Jandy says:

    Then again, it might have been the system he played in..,

  50. Kiki Berkey says:

    I know you wanted Samuelsson. So did I. But, I’m ok with Mike Johnston as the coach. He’s be an assistant in the NHL for a few years before he took over the Winterhawks. I know he likes to play a high tempo game. But, maybe he’ll be the Anti-Bylsma by actually playing young players.

  51. DJ says:

    Going way out on a limb with your paragraph No. 2 here, Cobra.

  52. DJ says:

    Wonder if Rutherford begins by wishing Rossi a “Happy Over the Hump Day.”

  53. Andrew says:

    If you cannot skate in today’s NHL you cannot play.

  54. cobra39 says:

    Hedging one’s bets is important :)


    I’m still trying to digest Mike Johnston as head coach but I can’t shake my gut reaction which, oddly enough, is the same gut reaction I had to Jim Rutherford’s hiring: an underwhelming sigh.

    I’ve got major concerns over his lack of head coaching experience at the NHL, how his only experience in the NHL came from his relationship with Marc Crawford (whom he followed to both Vancouver and LA), his lack of any coaching experience past the NHL conference semi-finals, and how his proclivities are so heavily in favor of developing younger players that I wonder if he’s better served staying in the minor leagues.

    Still, the fact that weighs heaviest on my mind is that Mike Johnston was realistically Jim Rutherford’s third choice behind Desjardins and Peters. Rutherford got outmaneuvered by both Vancouver and his proteges in Carolina in his first significant decision as GM, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. Whether Rutherford wasn’t being aggressive enough, whether he telegraphed his actions too much, whether he was too stubborn, or whether it was a combination of all three, there are other huge decisions looming over the Penguins like the leading edge of a dangerous squall line.

    If Rutherford shows more of the same at the entry draft and in the free agent market, the Penguins are in for a rude awakening to life after Ray Shero…

  56. DJ says:

    Looks like DK got there early to get the front center seat.

    Little fuzzy but I think I see an “I like Ulf” button.

  57. Eric Bowser says:

    Mike Johnston – HC
    Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin – Assistant Coaches
    Mike Bales – Goalie Coach

    will be looking to add another assistant coach.

  58. DJ says:

    Johnston’s got a black suit and black tie on.

    It’s either the perfect wedding or a funeral. Check back next spring.

  59. cobra39 says:

    I’ve already got Penguin fever for next year. The new schedule is out. There’s a game at Consol the day before and the day after Thanksgiving for us out-of-towners visiting for the weekend.

    I would say “Buckle Up Baby” but I think the popularity of that phrase has diminished somewhat.

  60. GAWTS2009 says:

    Really enjoyed this piece Jandy! I never put 2 and 2 together about an older coach having a calming father like presence to high tense situations.

  61. Arriba Wilver says:

    Other than curiosity, what difference does it make? Not trying to be smart, and I know DK is on your side.

  62. cobra39 says:

    Penguin black?

  63. GAWTS2009 says:

    love that they kept Martin

  64. GAWTS2009 says:

    agreed, what’s wrong with paying for parents to see their sons? Maybe there is more to it. Not done much research

  65. DJ says:

    One welcome trait about Johnston.

    No audible sighs and interminable pauses.

  66. Pete in Dayton says:

    Callahan at 5.8 a season cap hit? Ouch. Niskanen will make over 6 million next season, no doubt.
    I know some teams have to overpay to get talent, but that Callahan signing is something else. 6 years? He did so much in that sweep to the Habs that they wanted to pay him all that money?

  67. cobra39 says:

    Any “We’ve got to get to our game”s yet?

  68. DJ says:

    No, but he’s talking a lot of X’s and O’s right now.

    Like it.

  69. radiowave says:

    As I posted earlier this week, this should not be a total surprise. Around the sports world it is obvious that the old school era of the revolving door retred coaching fraternity is over. Thirty years ago a pair of MLB teams went to the broadcast booth to find a Manager. Now you have at least two MLB Mgrs. in St. Louis and the White Sox who got their jobs with no prior experience. Two NBa New York teams hired recently retired players with no coaching background into multi million dollar jobs. So is this a stretch to drop down to a lower level of hockey to get a coach with some experience to move up toan NHL post? I don’t know if this gentleman is in over his head or not. Time will tell. But I would think Pens fans could relate to a think outside the box management style.

  70. hockeymonster says:

    Hynes needs to stay and be ‘structure control’ coach. And in today’s nhl there aren’t 4 options. Only 2. Safe play off the boards/glass or a tape to tape pass. Maybe 3 if you count the murphy dump play.

  71. Jandy says:

    yes, good news.

  72. Eric from Gburg says:

    Absolutely agree Eric. Let’s see the system, see how the player manage it, and most importantly, how will it play out in the playoffs.

  73. Arriba Wilver says:

    I thought this was interesting, too:

    “Two words about Johnston: ‘Up’ and ‘Tempo.’ His teams play an attacking style of hockey that clearly is the direction Sidney Crosby, er, the Penguins want to go.”

    With the focus on the second sentence.

  74. GAWTS2009 says:

    My broader question is what happens to the AHL system? I assume it will change to match the PENS new system but could be a rough transition for them.

  75. DJ says:

    Is Hynes the third assistant or do you want to see him fill that position?

  76. hockeymonster says:

    Want hynes to stay. For more than one reason…

  77. Dcpinpgh says:

    Topic ‘A’, lol….good one DK

  78. DJ says:


  79. DJ says:

    Hope our AHL system changes to getting bigger, better players.

  80. espo33 says:

    I thought Reirden did a good job, so sorry that he is leaving. he was good in WB while down there as well.

  81. espo33 says:

    Because of Tochett? Not sure on that one. He is a pretty tough dude, who didn’t seem to take crap in TB. Of course he was in a tight spot with a bad defense and no goalie situation, but that is another story.

  82. Jandy says:

    Tocchet: People think I’m going to walk into practice with a stick and hit people.
    Yohe: Are you?
    Tocchet: I mean, I wasn’t planning on it.


  83. bpn8pitt says:

    Good posts from the hockey people.

    As I understand it, Johnston is “puck posession” based. Stronger than Bylsma’s?

    Also how are his X’s and O’s? Tochetts?

    Conditioning of players?

    Players coach? Or more disciplined?



    In other news, the LA Kings sign Marian Gaborik to a 7-year deal at $4.875M annual cap hit. That’s some GM wizardry there, folks.

  85. Jandy says:

    I honestly don’t know very much about Johnston, other than I read he is a puck possession, net front, type coach.

  86. There was no way the Bucs were going to beat David Price since, as usual, he was at the top of his game. Meanwhile, the Pens have a new coach although it’s not Ulf Samuelson, and so, one can only hope that Johnson and Tocchet can lead them to a Stanley Cup.Anyhow, we’ll see how well the US does vs Germany in soccer tomorrow morning.

  87. Eric Bowser says:

    7 years is too long but they structured the deal that if he retires, they won’t get the cap penalties. Lombardi is on top of the game right now. Great scouts, management team, solid coaching staff, very good roster, outstanding player development system…

  88. bpn8pitt says:

    Thanks anyway jandyjandy.

  89. Jandy says:

    yeah, and they have Anze Kopitar too!


  90. Jandy says:


  91. Jandy says:

    my pleasure, sweetie :*

  92. hockeymonster says:

    Less stretch passing, more support which is good. Just question his ability to coach structure and team d. :)

  93. cherokee23 says:

    I love when you do this!

  94. Poole says:

    He’s definitely more of an X and O’s guy. Tocchet surpringly is pretty knowledgable in that regard as well. Johnston has a record of keeping his players accountable and disciplined despite being slightly soft spoken.

  95. NastyNate82 says:

    Did this guy coach at the Ice Castle last year?

  96. DJ says:

    Think it was on DK’s radio show that he mentioned that Tocchet knew of several ways to make Sid a better player.

    Maybe the Pens should have made Tocchet a paid consultant in the playoffs.

  97. DJ says:

    Like that Johnston seems open-minded and willing to mesh/meld.

    No whining about having final say in every member of the staff nonsense. Low maintenance is good.

  98. DJ says:

    A tad darker shade, Cobra.

    I’d say more LA Kings black.

  99. Arriba Wilver says:


  100. DJ says:

    Watched the presser a 2nd time. One simple focus he mentioned is the center of the ice. Not emphasized enough the last few years.

    Proof will be in the pudding, of course, but I very much like that initial mindset.

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