Commentary

What now on coaching carousel?

Vancouver hiring leaves questions for Pittsburgh, former coach Bylsma

Updated: June 24, 2014, 12:39 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Sources confirmed to ESPN.com this week that Willie Desjardins was offered a three-year contract -- and the chance to coach two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Time will tell if Desjardins made the right decision to walk away from that deal.

Maybe his long relationship with Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden was too powerful for Desjardins ignore, which would explain his taking the Canucks' head-coaching job. Maybe Desjardins interviewed with Pittsburgh to try to leverage a better deal out of the Canucks, never intending to take the job.

[+] EnlargeWillie Desjardins
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Darryl DyckWillie Desjardins' decision creates some wonder for his new team and the one he spurned.
Maybe he wanted full autonomy to hire his staff, which wasn't going to happen in Pittsburgh. It's worth noting, though, that the Penguins weren't insisting on having the final say on the entire coaching staff, but presumably they want former Pen Rick Tocchet on board. Frankly, we'd have no problem with that no matter who ends up coaching in Pittsburgh.

In the end, the 57-year-old Desjardins chose to take his first NHL head-coaching gig with a Vancouver team that is watching its Stanley Cup window close in a hurry. The pressure to win there is far less than in Pittsburgh, and after the disaster of the last couple of seasons, expectations are slightly south of low for the Canucks.

Still, we're wondering what Desjardins will think about this decision when his Canucks are once again mired in the bottom third of the Western Conference standings and headed for another year outside the playoff bubble. Maybe the Canucks will wonder, too, about a coach who somehow couldn't see himself coaching two of the game's best players.

What about the Pens (and Bylsma)?

Speaking of coaches, if we were hiring the Pens new coach (and for the record, no one has asked our opinion), we would be taking a good look at former Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates. Things didn't turn out well for Oates in Washington, but that's what mediocre goaltending and suspect defense will get you. Hey, sounds a little bit like the Pens, no?

But look at Oates' work with the Capitals' power play and the production he got from top players like Alex Ovechkin and role players like Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, who blossomed under Oates' tutelage. Former Caps, Sharks and Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson would be on our short list too.

As for former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, he will surely be in the on-deck circle when next season starts, and you have to imagine that GMs potentially on the fence about their coaching situations -- say, like the Toronto Maple Leafs -- will be looking at Bylsma as an obvious Plan B should the season get off to a rocky start.

Bylsma was in the running for the Florida Panthers job that ultimately went to Gerard Gallant. We like the fit for Gallant, especially given the work he has put in since a rather unimpressive NHL debut in Columbus back in the day, but have to wonder whether Bylsma perhaps priced himself out of the Panthers job.

Still, that's what having a Stanley Cup on your résumé -- even if it was in 2009 and was followed by five straight playoff losses to lower seeds -- will buy you: the opportunity to be choosy.

Jackets make solid move

You have to hand it to Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen for adding another impressive piece to the Blue Jackets puzzle. Kekalainen dealt expendable forward R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for Scott "I'm more than just a hairstyle" Hartnell.

[+] EnlargeScott Hartnell
Len Redkoles/NHLI/Getty ImagesYes, Scott Hartnell cut his hair, but he's still a nice pickup for the Blue Jackets.
Hartnell is under contract through the 2018-19 season with an annual cap hit of $4.75 million. Yes, it's a lot for a guy who slumped to 20 goals last season after a career-best 37 in 2011-12. His actual dollar amount declines through the final three years of his contract, though, and with the cap expected to continue to rise, Hartnell's hit isn't that out of whack.

Further, he will provide another veteran presence for a team that won its first-ever playoff games last season and pushed Pittsburgh to six games in the first round. Hartnell should be a nice fit as a top-six forward who can help out on the power play.

Umberger, by the way, is under contract through 2016-17 with a $4.6 million cap hit. He has battled injury and was a healthy scratch at times at the end of the season. The former Flyers prospect had 18 goals last season and has a limited top end, and there was a strong possibility that if the Blue Jackets couldn't find a home for Umberger they would have bought him out.

Maybe the Flyers thought the same about Hartnell, but at the end of the day, it's hard to see how the Blue Jackets didn't come out on top in this deal in a big way.

Canadiens' shrewd signing

It's hard to argue the logic of the Montreal Canadiens signing veteran defenseman Andrei Markov to a three-year extension with an average cap hit of $5.75 million, which is a mirror of the deal he just completed.

Yes, it's likely one year too many for the hard-working 35-year-old, who has played a ton of hockey in the past year thanks to the Olympics and the Habs long playoff run. But had the Canadiens tried to press the matter on term and seen Markov walk, would someone else have given him the same deal? Undoubtedly.

The Dallas Stars gave Sergei Gonchar, an older and less useful player, a two-year deal worth $10 million last summer, and this year's free-agent class is wafer-thin in terms of defensemen. And if Markov had left, how would the Habs have replaced his minutes and presence?

Dan Boyle might have been an option, but he's older and also nearing the end of a solid NHL career. Boyle is also looking for term, at least two years.

The Canadiens might wish they hadn't gone that extra mile by the time the end of the deal rolls around, but for a team looking to build on a special run to the conference finals, there were few options other than biting the bullet and giving Markov the extra time.

More Yandle yammering

Finally, it is an annual rite of summer to have Keith Yandle trade rumors swirling, and this is an important offseason for the Phoenix Coyotes, who were some folks' pick (OK, mine and mine alone) to win the Stanley Cup last year.

The Coyotes missed the playoffs after Mike Smith struggled through the first half and the team could not rediscover the tough brand of defensive hockey it played during a run to the 2012 Western Conference finals. There was also the disappointing turn by big free-agent acquisition Mike Ribeiro, who was, to put it kindly, a flat-out bust. Ribeiro's 47 points last season were two fewer than he had in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

Phoenix is deep along the blue line and Yandle would command a handsome return, but the guess here is that if Yandle is moved it will be for immediate assistance rather than top draft picks. The Coyotes need help down the middle.

You wonder if the Edmonton Oilers have any decent forwards they would be willing to give up for a smooth, puck-moving defenseman? Or are the Oilers determined to stay in the hunt for yet another first overall draft pick next summer?

The Ottawa Senators need help up front, so Yandle is not necessarily a fit there, but longtime Senators center Jason Spezza would be a nice fit for the Yotes.

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