The Pittsburgh Penguins made it clear that they are still committed to Mike Sullivan as their head coach, extending him through the 2023-24 season.
After being swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t see it as a time to panic — rather a time to take a step back, regroup and allow Mike Sullivan to do his job as head coach to bring this team back to Stanley Cup contention.
After making a few early offseason moves, which included signing Brandon Tanev and trading Phil Kessel (Arizona Coyotes) and Olli Maatta (Chicago Blackhawks), Jim Rutherford figured it was time to sign Mike Sullivan to a contract extension — something that wasn’t set in stone as the head coach entered his final season of his old contract.
The contract extension, which will take effect at the end of this upcoming season, will extend the Penguins’ head coach through the 2023-2024 season.
Sullivan started his coaching career in 2002, hired as the head coach of the Providence Bruins in the AHL. A year later, he found himself behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens as head coach. Some early success led to a bit of a downfall, eventually being fired as head coach in Montreal.
Over the next 9 years, Sullivan would serve as assistant coach for the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks before signing as the head coach of WBS — the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top farm team. After a great start, Sullivan was promoted to head coach of the Pens after firing Mike Johnston.
Sullivan was asked to take over mid-season, and did what only five other NHL head coaches have done in history — win the Stanley Cup in their first year after being signed mid-season. Sullivan followed that up with a great start to the 2017 season, which awarded him the contract extension that runs through this upcoming season.
Since winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, Sullivan has kept his team relevant as a contender each year, but has gradually been losing the focus and respect of his players — something that was never an issue in the first two seasons. This caused many to question how much longer Sullivan would remain in Pittsburgh.
Jim Rutherford made it clear this offseason that the Penguins’ front office still has total confidence in Sullivan’s ability to keep this team a consistent contender.
It wasn’t just the extension that made it clear, but trading Phil Kessel — who had a bad relationship with Sullivan — sent the message to the players that they will either prove they’re all-in with Sullivan, or get out.
With Sullivan’s leadership, he shouldn’t have too many issues getting this team back on track after being swept in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Had the Pittsburgh Penguins not extended him this early, it might’ve sent the wrong message to Sullivan — or even the players. If the Penguins are serious about keeping their franchise in cup contention, not committing to Sullivan before the season starts could’ve actually done more harm than good.
Locker room chemistry started to slip out of Sullivan’s control last season for the first time since he became head coach, ultimately leading to a team’s worst playoff nightmare — getting swamped. If the front office wanted to put an end to that, extending Sullivan was a good place to start.
This doesn’t even mean that the Penguins need to keep him, but it sends that message that Sullivan is their guy and it’s his job to lose. With the backing of the front office, especially that Kessel trade, Sullivan will have the control he needs to win the locker room back.
This Penguins’ team — any professional team — is at its best when chemistry is at a high-point.
Plus, Sullivan is a coach that any team in the NHL would love to have. If you don’t lock him up now — even if you aren’t entirely sure he will stay — you will risk losing him to a team that shows more interest.
In my personal opinion, if anyone is going to keep the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stanley Cup contention, it’s Mike Sullivan. He’s one of the brightest coaches in the league and the Pens — including their fanbase — would be silly to take him for granted.
Let the man do his thang!
Have you been happy with Mike Sullivan’s time in Pittsburgh? Do you think he has what it takes to continue his success with the Penguins? Feel free to leave your comments below!