When the Portland Winterhawks fired coach-GM Jamie Kompon on Friday, there was speculation locally that former Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss Mike Johnston would return to guide the WHL team once again.
Not so, Winterhawks president Doug Piper told Scott Sepich of The Oregonian.
"We would of course be interested in any former NHL head coach, but we haven't talked to anybody," Piper said. "We're just starting the process. People think we have a deal with Mike to bring him in and that's just not true.
"Mike is very loyal to us and appreciative of what we did together. We are close with him and he's as good as they come. But he's still evaluating what he wants to do, and there's nothing going on there."
Johnson was fired by the Penguins in December in the middle of what his second season with the NHL team. Before that, Johnston ran the Winterhawks from October 2008 onward, revitalizing a team that was coming off its worst season in the franchise’s 40-year history. Johnston guided the Winterhawks to four consecutive WHL final appearances from 2011 to 2014, although their only league championship came in 2013 when he was suspended for player recruitment violations and replaced by current Utica Comets coach Travis Green.
Fueling speculation about Johnston’s return to the Winterhawks was his attendance at games after his dismissal by the Penguins. Johnston took in a pair of games in January, but told Sepich he was watching strictly as a fan and would take his time before deciding on his next coaching position given he is under contract with the Penguins for 2016-17. He did express an interest in coaching the Winterhawks again though.
"I enjoyed my time here in Portland and it's a great city," Johnston told Sepich. "If in whatever number of years there was something here that was attractive, I would certainly be open to it."
Johnston helped the Winterhawks find Kompon after he left for Pittsburgh in June 2014. Kompon was axed Friday after the Winterhawks were swept by the Everett Silvertips in the first-round of the WHL playoffs. Dating back to the regular season, the Winterhawks lost their last nine games under Kompon.
Kompon, a former NHL assistant coach with Los Angeles and Chicago, led Portland to its fifth-straight appearance in the Western Conference final last season – his first with the club after replacing Johnston.