LAS VEGAS — The Pittsburgh Penguins were in hot water. Losses were piling up. The team submitted lackluster performances after no-show losses, and the end of a decade-and-a-half run that included three Stanley Cups, postseason trophies, and a years-long sellout streak was unraveling.
In mid-November, oddsmakers installed Penguins coach Mike Sullivan as one of a few favorites to be fired. Sullivan, Edmonton’s Jay Woodcroft, and Ottawa’s D.J. Smith were at the top of the list and had single-digit odds.
It was natural to wonder if Sullivan’s eight-year tenure was ending and the veteran team had heard the tune too many times to sing along.
Smith and Woodcroft have since been terminated.
Sullivan is far from it. The coach not only helped steer his team from a potential death spiral but has pushed his team to forgo their natural tendencies of wide-open, good-time hockey in exchange for some greasy, gritty hockey heavy on low-zone battles and defensive responsibility.
According to Betonline.ag Sullivan has gone from a 9-2 favorite to be unemployed to a 33-1 long shot. Buffalo’s Don Granato is currently the heavy favorite to be the next coach to get an early morning call from the GM.
Sure, some holdouts within the fanbase offer criticisms based on the lack of playing time for young players or an aversion to physicality, but the public drumbeat has also ceased.
For what it’s worth, the next bad word about Sullivan uttered by this team and within earshot of this reporter would be the first. There have been a couple of guys who weren’t fans, and they’re no longer in Pittsburgh. That also seems natural; even Scotty Bowman had his internal detractors.
The Penguins are 8-2-3 since that 7-0 debacle on Dec. 16 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, broadcast to a national TV audience on Hockey Night in Canada.
Sullivan recently replied to a question about that game as a turning point and, in the process, ever so slightly pulled back the curtain to his ability to command the locker room.
“We learn more from our failures than we do our successes because that’s when we’re most vulnerable,” Sullivan said on Jan. 10. “That’s when you’re more inclined to take an honest look at yourself and ourselves as a team and say, ‘Okay, how do we get better here?'”
The team was unlikely to have decided on its own to adopt the tougher style and philosophy that the coaches have been preaching.
Sullivan continues to set a standard of coaching longevity not matched in Pittsburgh Penguins’ history and equaled by only a few others in the salary cap era.
Sullivan is 337-187-65 in his Penguins career.
A few Metro Division coaches are next up on the hot seat.
|Don Granato (BUF)
|Lindy Ruff (NJ)
|David Quinn (SJ)
|Sheldon Keefe (TOR)
|Pascal Vincent (CBJ)
|Lane Lambert (NYI)