Fresh off another playoff debacle and the subsequent firing of the franchise's all-time wins leader, the Pittsburgh Penguins have found their next head coach.
The Penguins have agreed to a contract with Mike Johnston, coach of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks.
Even though Johnston clearly was not general manager Jim Rutherford's top choice — Willie Desjardins went to the Vancouver Canucks and Bill Peters was hired by the Carolina Hurricanes — Johnston's offensive-minded approach would seem to mesh well with the Penguins' personnel.
Johnston took over the Winterhawks’ hockey operations in October 2008 and quickly turned the franchise into one of the elite teams in the Western Hockey League. He compiled a record of 231-114-10-10 behind the bench, with four straight Western Conference championships and the 2013 Ed Chynoweth Cup as Western Hockey League champions.
His 231 wins as a coach are second in team history behind only Ken Hodge, while his winning percentage of .660 is first among all Hawks coaches who spent at least 100 games behind the bench.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins, this has been a dream of mine since I started coaching,” said Johnston. “Without Portland this wouldn't have been possible and I am truly grateful to Bill Gallacher, the players and staff I have worked with over the last six years. The time has gone by fast but it will always be memorable.”
He had previously been an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings for two seasons, and was an associate coach with the Vancouver Canucks from 1999-2006.
Internationally, he coached Canada in the 2009 World Under-18 Hockey Championships in 2009 and was an assistant for Canada in the World Championships in 2007, when Canada went 9-0 en route to the gold medal.
While he doesn't have NHL head-coaching experience, it was only a matter of time before he was given a chance.
Now he'll get it with an organization that has massive expectations. The Penguins have reached the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, but bowing out in disappointing fashion in the playoffs that followed.
Despite winning a franchise-record 252 games in his five-plus seasons, former coach Dan Bylsma couldn't make the needed adjustments to replicate his initial playoff success. This past season, the Penguins saw a 3-1 second-round series lead disappear in a loss to the New York Rangers.