This just doesn't feel right.
None of it.
And really, did it ever?
Not since he was, what, their second or third choice … at least? Did it really ever feel right?
Maybe it would be best --- before this all gets too far gone --- for the Penguins and coach Mike Johnston to simply go their separate ways.
For the two sides to part.
For, and there's no other way to put it, the organization to can the man.
Actually, let's stop beating around the bush here.
Mike Johnston has to go.
We've seen this charade long enough, his system isn't working and the Penguins have become mired in just-above-average results arrived at by playing a dreary brand of hockey. That's one hell of a toxic mix --- and one that has absolutely zero signs of getting better anytime soon.
With this team currently in the throes of a stretch where they have lost four of five, have fallen short in five of seven and are 14-10-2, when is enough going to be enough?
When is the tipping point?
When do you look at the man and say, "nothing personal, but this just isn't working out" as you dismiss him?
I say we've arrived at that point. We're there. He's got to go.
For sure, Johnston isn't the only reason the Penguins find themselves in fifth place and 10 points back in the Metropolitan, but there's no way around the fact that he is a reason.
His public rift with general manager Jim Rutherford isn't a good look for him either. You know the one, the tussle over young, dynamic forward Daniel Sprong's role.
Rutherford said in media interviews recently that he felt Sprong should be getting some more time and implored Johnston to do exactly as such.
Nevertheless, Sprong couldn't find his way onto the ice with any regularity.
This feels like the height of hubris; it seems like the pinnacle of "I'm going to do it my way no matter what the GM tells me" as Johnston insists on jamming that square peg into a round hole.
In my opinion, Rutherford should have dismissed Johnston for a failure to listen to him, if nothing else. Now, though, he should dismiss Johnston because this team has become lackluster and bland on a million levels.
Right now, what makes you want to go to games?
What excitement is there?
What kind of buzz is being generated by the club that forces you to climb into your car and head to the arena or, even less, flick on the television and stay awake to the clear end of the contest?
I can't remember a time in the recent past where the Penguins' product has had less shine to it than right now. It feels, in some ways, like a bit of an afterthought. There's no way in creation, with that world-class building and the top-end talent, the Penguins shouldn't be creating a decent-sized buzz every single home game they play.
It sure doesn't feel that way right now; doesn't feel like those tickets are must-haves.
Maybe it's this …
Headed into their game with Colorado on Wednesday night, the Penguins were scoring 2.31 goals per game to rank 26th out of 30 teams in the NHL. Or, to put it another way, only Carolina, Toronto, Philadelphia and Anaheim were scoring fewer goals per game than a team employing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, David Perron and various other members of the assorted cast.
Ask yourself: Is that good enough?
Then try to excuse it away with some nonsense about scoring being down league-wide when the reality Johnston simply hasn't ever gotten enough from his stars.
Is it good enough that a roster built to play in a Bugatti style --- albeit in an NHL with the scoring down --- looks at times more like an old, clunky Econoline van broken down on the side of I-79 with a towel hanging out the window pleading mercifully for some help?
It just isn't right; it just isn't good enough. And it falls on the players, sure. But it should fall on the centers-need-to-track-back-200-feet and the defensemen-always-need-to-join-the-play styles Johnston is insistent on playing.
For that, I'm inclined to say it's time for him to go. Actually, I'll be stronger. It is time for him to go.
So who comes in?
This is easy.
For the time being you promote Rich Tocchet or Jacques Martin internally --- men who are already catching a paycheck from the Penguins. And one, in Tocchet, who was given a job with the organization before Johnston was. It always felt as if this organization had a deeper sense of loyalty to Tocchet than to Johnston in the aftermath of the Dan Bylsma firing when both were brought in.
If you don't want to go that route, what about Mike Sullivan, the current head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton? He could be a logical fit.
As, too, could be Guy Boucher, a man looking for a job who is just 44-years-old and might be the spark this franchise needs.
Nonetheless, it just feels like Mike Johnston isn't the right man moving forward.
You wonder if he was ever the right man at all?
For the sake of success and this franchise having the best chance at having another parade on Grant Street anytime soon, it's time for them to move on from Mike Johnston.
It's time to do that right now.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 "The Fan." You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.
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