Pens give Sullivan a 3-year extension | News, Sports, Jobs
By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Mike Sullivan doesn’t believe coaches have a “lifetime”.
Apparently, neither did his bosses.
The Pittsburagh Penguins signed their two-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach on Tuesday to a contract extension that will run through the 2026-27 season, a pact that has doubled as a vote of confidence to the club’s iconic core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and the fiery Sullivan’s ability to lead them.
Sullivan still had two years left on his current contract. Still, Fenway Sports Group, which bought the Penguins from Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle last fall, has seen enough to lock in the winningest coach in franchise history for the long haul.
Sullivan, 54, joined Pittsburgh in December 2015. If he reaches the end of his new contract, it means he will have spent more than a decade with the Penguins, a nearly unprecedented tenure in the league. NHL.
Again, Sullivan thinks he’s in an almost unprecedented situation.
“I think I had the luxury of inheriting a standard of excellence, a certain culture that developed in Pittsburgh,” said Sullivan. “I feel the need to be the guardian of that.”
Sullivan’s 297 regular season wins are a franchise record. His 44-38 playoff record includes Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. The Massachusetts native is the only American-born coach with multiple Cups and he is one of only two coaches in the NHL history of winning the Cup in each of his first two seasons with a team.
“He has clearly demonstrated what an effective leader he is,” said Fenway Sports Group owner John Henry. “And it’s obvious the players respond well to his philosophy and his work ethic night after night, month after month.”
Although at first glance it looks like a strange marriage. Style anyway.
The grinder who spent a decade in the NHL deliberately doing the dirty work others wouldn’t or couldn’t to hold on to a spot on the roster leads a group of such uncanny ability that he leaves often Sullivan shaking his impeccably groomed head.
“I wish I could play the game like this group of players can play,” said Sullivan.
He could not. Still, the center who scored all 54 goals in 11 seasons has found a way to connect with the generational talent dotting Pittsburgh’s roster.
“I just believe in being honest and frank with our players,” he said. “I think an important aspect of what we do is to build relationships.”
Particularly in times of adversity, something that has become familiar in recent years in Pittsburgh. The Penguins haven’t reached the second round of the playoffs since 2018 and saw a promising season end under somewhat bizarre circumstances last spring in a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in the first round.
In the aftermath, one-man players pointed out that the club’s championship window remains open, even with Crosby, Letang and Malkin all in their mid-30s. Management apparently agreed, signing Letang and Malkin to lengthy extensions in July. Now they have followed suit by doing the same with the coach whose “play the right way” ethics do not seem to have gone out of fashion.
“It’s about selling the message” said Sullivan. “It’s about making sure that whatever you’re trying to sell, they have to buy it. They have to believe deeply that this is the game plan that’s going to give us the best chance of success.”
And success remains the norm for a team that has reached the playoffs 16 straight years, the longest active streak in North American professional sports. Still, Sullivan is well aware that the norm isn’t just to make the playoffs, but to stick around for a while.
Although he is well aware of the advanced age of his superstars, he is optimistic about the future.
“I believe these guys can still play” he said of Crosby, Letang and Malkin. “They showed no signs of declining. I get to watch these guys every day. I know the sacrifices they make.
The past seven-plus years have given Sullivan the opportunity to observe these sacrifices up close. There were moments of tension. Difficult conversations. Difficult decisions. Success can be capricious. Longevity maybe even more. The new contract won’t be worth much if the Penguins don’t win and win at a high level.
Bring it on.
“I love what I do. I love being a part of it. I love being in the thick of it,” he said. “It’s part of my DNA, I guess.”