Penguins Head Coach Search Kicks Off

Justin K. Aller

The Penguins started their Head Coach interviews this week and we are starting to hear rumours trickle through about the candidates.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been in a holding pattern since multi-record setting Head Coach Dan Bylsma was fired. Newly appointed General Manager Jim Rutherford has stated he originally had 2 lists, one with 3 names and another with 6 names that he wanted to interview, but recently told reporters that because of the number of phone calls he got from other teams and even some coaches themselves he was forced to expand the list. The interviews for his replacement began on Monday as planned. So let's take a look at the reported candidates and what experience they may bring to the team.

John Hynes

The only candidate that was confirmed as being in town for an in person interview on Monday was in-house candidate John Hynes. Hynes has spent the past 4 years as Head Coach of the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, during which time he posted a 186-102-20 regular season record. He won the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award for AHL Coach of the Year and Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for the most regular season Points in 2010-11, and his team won the Harry "Hap" Holmes Memorial Award for lowest Goals Against Average in three of the past 4 years, first in 2010-11 and then back-to-back in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

During the playoffs he posted a 29-27 record, making the 2nd round during his first two season and then the Conference Finals in each of the past 2 years. During the playoffs he showed his ability to make adjustments and battle back from adversity, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win Round 1 in 2011, trailing 3-1 but coming back to force a Game 7 during Round 2 in 2012, an historic comeback after trailing 3-0 during the 2nd Round in 2013 to become only the third team in AHL history to accomplish this feat and the first to do so on the road, and even this year were down 3-1 but managed to force Game 6 during the 3rd Round in 2014.

Prior to becoming HC he spent 1 season as Assistant Coach to the Pittsburgh Penguins current/soon-to-be former Assistant Coach Todd Reirden. Prior to joining the Penguins organization he spent 2 years as AC at Boston University, 1 year as AC at UMass-Lowell, 1 year as AC at Wisconsin, and 9 years with the US National Development Team Program as AC and HC, including the World Junior U18 and U20 Team USA. During his time with the USNDTP he won Gold as AC of the U18 team and then Silver and Gold as HC of the U18 team as well as Gold once as AC and once as HC of the U20 team.

Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson has an exceptionally long NHL career, having served as Head Coach for 18 seasons with 4 different teams, as well as serving as HC for Team USA through 2 World Cups, 2 World Championships, and 2 Olympics. He won Gold in the 1996 World Cup and Silver at the 2010 Olympics, while failing to medal during his other 4 international appearances.

Throughout the years coaching the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Washington Capitals, the San Jose Sharks, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wilson posted a combined 648-561-192 record during the regular season and a 47-48 playoff record. In all the years he coached he never managed to win a Cup, and only reached the Cup Finals once plus one additional Conference Finals visit. He got bumped from the 2nd Round four times and the 1st Round twice, while completely failing to qualify for the playoffs on 10 occasions. His most recent stint was 4 years with Toronto during which he failed to make the playoffs for 3 straight years and then got fired mid-season in 2011-12.

Marc Crawford

Marc Crawford also has a long tenure, serving as Head Coach for 15 seasons with 4 different teams, as well as serving as HC for Team Canada during the 1998 Olympics and 2012 Spengler Cup. He did not medal during any of his international appearances.

Throughout the years coaching the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and Dallas Stars, Crawford posted a 549-421-181 record during the regular and a 43-40 playoff record. He was most successful in his early years, winning the Jack Adams Award with the Nordiques in 1994-95 and then the Stanley Cup with the newly relocated Avalanche in 1996. He made it back to the Conference Finals in 1997, but since then has been much less successful. Over the past 12 seasons he lost in the 2nd Round once, the 1st Round 4 times, and missed the playoffs entirely on 7 occasions, including his final 5 seasons coaching in the NHL.

After leaving Dallas after 2010-11, where he was at least partially responsible for James Neal and Matt Niskanen regressing to the point in which Ray Shero was able to steal them both for one Alex Goligoski, Crawford took a year off and then spent the past 2 seasons in Europe. He coach the Swiss National League A ZSC Lions from Zurich, making the 2nd round in 2012-13 and then winning the Championship in 2013-14.

Prior to becoming an NHL coach, Crawford spent 2 season as HC of the OHL Cornwall Royals and then 3 years as the HC of the St. John's Maple Leafs. During his time in St. John's he won the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award for AHL Coach of the Year in 1992-93. Unfortunately that is just further evidence to support the supposition that he peaked early in his career and has been unable to live up to his reputation built up during the early to mid-90s.

Ulf Samuelsson

Ulf Samuelsson is a former Penguins player from back in the Cup years playing with Lemieux, and the Penguins drafted on of his sons Philip Samuelsson who may be moving up to the NHL next year. He has not served as a Head Coach at the NHL level yet, but he was Associate Coach for the Phoenix Coyotes for 5 seasons and then became an Assistant Coach with the New York Rangers this year. Supposedly the Carolina Hurricanes are also very interested in him, especially since he is a former Hartford Whaler that played with their new GM Ron Francis both there and in Pittsburgh.

Internationally he does have experience as an HC though, as he went back home to Sweden to coach his son Henrik Samuelsson for MODO in the Elitserien during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. They weren't overly successful, posting a combined 38-15-16-41 record during his tenure, but he made the playoffs both season, although they did get eliminated in the 1st round. However, considering the year before he took over MODO finished dead last and they had missed the playoffs for 3 straight seasons, it was quite an improvement.

Bill Peters

Bill Peters does not have any experience as an NHL Head Coach either, but he spent the past 3 seasons as an Assistant Coach with the Detroit Red Wings. Of course considering the Red Wings track record over the past few seasons that isn't a particularly glowing endorsement. However, since most fans' preferred choice of Mike Babcock is not possible, I guess the feeling is that they can at least consider his Assistant.

He does have experience as a Head Coach prior to joining the Red Wings at the lower levels though. He spent 3 years as HC of the AHL Rockford IceHogs, during which time he posted a 122-97-21 record during the regular season and an 0-8 record during the playoffs, getting swept 2 years in a row and then failing to make the playoffs during his 3rd season.

Prior to joining the AHL, he served as HC to the WHL Spokane Chiefs for 3 seasons, going 111-82-23 during the regular season and 18-9 during the playoffs, missing the playoffs during his first year, losing in the 1st roudn the following season, and then winning the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 2008. And before that had been HC for the University of Lethbridge in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport system for 3 seasons, going 28-73-8 and losing in the 1st Round of the playoffs in 2002-03 and then missing the playoffs during his final 2 seasons.

John Stevens

John Stevens is a long shot and they don't even know if they will interview him, as the current rumours suggest that he is being groomed to replace Darryl Sutter when he leaves in a couple years. However, he remains high on almost everybody's list of potential candidates.

Stevens doesn't have as much experience as an NHL HC as some of the other options, but he has a history of stepping up when called upon. He spent at least part of 5 different seasons as an HC, first with the Philadelphia Flyers and then with the Los Angeles Kings. He has a 122-111-34 record during the regular season and an 11-12 record during the playoffs.

He started his NHL career as an AC with the Flyers in 2006-07, but was promoted to HC mid-season. His most successful season was his first full season the following year when he took the Flyers all the way to the Conference Finals in 2008. However, he lost in the 1st round in 2009 and then got fired partway through the 2009-10 season. The following year he joined the Kings as an AC, and in 2011-12 spent 4 games as interim HC while they searched for a long term replacement.

Prior to joining the NHL, Stevens spent 6 seasons as HC of the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms, during which he went 230-181-69 during the regular season and 27-19 during the playoffs. They lost to the Baby Pens in the 2nd round in 2001, then got swept in the 1st Round the following year, missed the playoffs the year after that, and once again lost to the Baby Pens in the 2nd round in 2004, before coming back and winning the Calder Cup in 2005, and lastly missing the playoffs in his final season.

Rick Tocchet

Rick Tocchet is one of those names you hear thrown around that most people say "Anybody but him..." The recent rumours, however, suggest the Pens are interested in him not as a Head Coach but as a potential Assistant Coach. Although nobody expected the dark horse Rutherford to wind up as the GM, so it is worth considering the possibility that he winds up as HC.

Tocchet has a very limited experience as an NHL coach, just 2 seasons as HC with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He got promoted as a replacement in 2008-09 and then served a full season as HC in 2009-10, during which he posted a 53-69-26 record and failed to make the playoffs both years. Prior to that he served part of the 2008-09 season as an AC with the Lightning, the 2005-06 season as an AC with the Phoenix Coyotes, and part of the 2002-03 and all of the 2003-04 seasons as an AC with the Colorado Avalanche.

What makes Tocchet an interesting option though is his connection to the team. He played with the Penguins and their current owner Mario Lemieux from partway into the 1991-92 season through the 1993-94 season. Which means he also played with potential HC candidate Ulf Samuelsson. Imagine Mario sitting in his office trying to bring back players from the Cup years to help run his team, Ulf as the HC and Tocchet as his AC. They can make it even better by hiring Tom Barrasso to be the other AC, and like Samuelsson he has connection both to the Penguins as well as to the Hurricanes as he served as their Goaltending Coach and then AC from 2007-12.

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