Mike Johnston is in a very uncomfortable position. Fired on Dec. 12 as the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he's sitting at home watching that team play in the Stanley Cup final against the San Jose Sharks. Well, he's watching "a little bit."
Prior to the final, he was heavily invested in watching the playoffs but focused his attention mostly on the Western Conference and the Sharks, whom he scouted and analyzed for NHL.com. But Wednesday night marks Game 2 of the Final, with the Pens up a game. Will he watch?
He admits the situation is painful and says he's watching "a little bit of it."
Is he rooting for Pittsburgh? Yes. In a complicated way.
"I think more individually than anything," he said. "I really enjoyed coaching with that group. There are some great, great kids there."
It's not quite the same team that Johnston coached early in the season.
"They have made some really good moves in the last couple of months," he said. "Adding the two defensemen and four forwards -- that's worked out well."
Johnston has been put in the position of his departure becoming the lynchpin of the Penguins' success. Headlines like "Penguins midseason coaching changes yield results" have been common in Pittsburgh, as you might expect. But the Pens were just two points out of the playoff picture when he was fired and didn't really take off under new coach Mike Sullivan until about a month before the end of the season.
Johnston says he doesn't "pay much attention" to the negativity surrounding his tenure. He says there were "an accumulation of things" that led to his departure and he doesn't seem bitter. He's signed on for another run as the coach and general manager of the Winterhawks and has plenty of work to do there to get that team back to a position of power.
As for the Stanley Cup final, he said he will be watching. At least "a little bit."