PITTSBURGH – Former Penguins head coach Mike Johnston, who was relieved of his duties in December of 2015, to this day remains on the team’s bench staring out onto the ice with a befuddled look on his face. But the team says it has no plans to remove him.
“That was one of the things they told me about when I took the job,” said current head coach Mike Sullivan. “It was awkward at first, but I’ve learned to deal with him standing there. He never says anything and just kinds of looks ahead blankly and every once in a while mumbles or shakes his head. I think he struggles to understand how the team that struggled so much with him is now doing so well. At this point we kind of see him as a good luck charm on the bench.”
The Penguins plucked Johnston from the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL in 2014 after firing Dan Bylsma, but Johnston quickly showed he was over-matched by the NHL game and his highly-talented teams played far below their potential. When general manager Jim Rutherford informed Johnston of his dismissal, the overwhelmed coach struggled to process the information.
“Mike Johnston wasn’t a good fit for us,” said Rutherford, “and we made the move when we realized it. That said, he is a nice guy who tried his best and it felt cruel to tell him to leave. He’s not being paid or anything and has no duties here, but if he wants to just stand there and stare at stuff, that’s okay by us. It’s what he did when he was our coach and it’s what he still does today. You have to admire the consistency.”
Despite Johnston continuing to not do anything, he is gaining attention around the league. One source says the Flyers are very interested in adding him to their staff.
“They have an overwhelmed coach who just stares blankly at the ice in Dave Hakstol,” said the source. “But he’s younger. Johnston would give them some more experience at being completely over-matched. It would be a nice balance for them on the bench.”