PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins have insisted during their extensive front office overhaul that the on-ice product doesn't need to change much for the franchise to return to the NHL's elite.
Small tweaks, not big ones, are required.
Mike Johnston's job is to figure out which ones to make and - perhaps even more importantly - how to make them work.
The Penguins hired the well-traveled Johnston to replace Dan Bylsma on Wednesday, charging the hockey lifer with creating the right system for stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to thrive in both the regular season and beyond.
Considering the talent at his disposal, the 57-year-old Johnston likes his chances. After spending the last six years with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League preaching an uptempo attack, Johnston welcomes the opportunity to work with one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL.
Pittsburgh is Johnston's first NHL head coaching job, though he spent two previous stints as an assistant with Vancouver and the Los Angeles Kings. He said he has a bit to learn about the challenges of an 82-game NHL season, which is one of the reasons the Penguins also brought in Rick Tocchet to serve as Johnston's top assistant.
Tocchet played 18 years in the NHL, including two seasons in Pittsburgh, where the four-time All-Star helped the Penguins win their second Stanley Cup championship in 1992. The 50-year-old Tocchet also spent more than a season as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10.
While Tocchet said that his old team has underachieved in recent springs, he doesn't see that as a stumbling block.