Jim Johnson was in a state of flux.
As Dale Hunter’s guy on the Washington Capitals’ coaching staff, the assistant hired in November didn’t know what his future would be in mid-May. Hunter was going back to London, Ontario, and general manager George McPhee went about interviewing candidates.
Johnson, hired Tuesday as an assistant coach by the San Jose Sharks, did not get far in the process of replacing Hunter.
“We talked briefly with George about it. He had called me and said it looked like they were going to go in another direction,” Johnson said in a phone interview Tuesday night. “At that point I kind of knew I was not going to be interviewed for that position.”
Still under contract with the Caps, Johnson couldn’t speak freely with other teams before McPhee granted permission. When Sharks GM Doug Wilson called, McPhee opened the door for Johnson’s departure while zeroing in on Adam Oates to fill the head vacancy.
Johnson said he and McPhee “never really crossed” the bridge of whether he would return to the Caps as an assistant if he didn’t go to San Jose.
“I was already down the road with San Jose with a number of interviews. I really liked where it was going; I had a really good feeling of where it was going here but yet didn’t really know if I was going to get the job or not.,” Johnson said. “When Adam was hired, things progressed with San Jose and I just thought it was a good opportunity for me at this point, not knowing what they were going to do.”
First San Jose hired legend Larry Robinson, who previously served as an assistant alongside Oates with the New Jersey Devils. Johnson knew the Sharks were making another addition to McLellan’s staff but didn’t know who it would be.
Given that Robinson is a Hall of Fame defenseman he seemed to fit coaching the Sharks’ defensemen, but Johnson also played on the blue line and served in that role with the Caps.
“That you’re making an assumption,” Johnson said about his coaching forwards. “That’s going to be Todd’s decision to put the staff where he feels it’s best for the organization.”
Robinson already made it clear earlier this week he wasn’t going to San Jose to take McLellan’s job. Johnson’s not going there with that in mind, either.
“I don’t think [being an NHL head coach is] my ultimate goal,” he said. “My goal is to get better every day as a coach and as I continue to grow in coaching and work with great people and good organizations like I did in Washington and now I have an opportunity in San Jose, I think that’s where you really become the coach.”