What is the most eye-catching streak the Pittsburgh Penguins have going at the moment?
Is it that they’ve qualified for postseason play in 16 consecutive years, the longest active run among teams in the four major North American leagues?
But how about they’ve had the same coach for 6 1/2 years?
Frankly, it’s hard to argue against that one.
For while that might not seem like much of a feat in baseball or basketball or football, the hard truth is that NHL coaches tend to have a shelf life rivaling that of raw milk.
Mike Sullivan was promoted from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre to replace Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, 2015. The only guy still coaching the NHL club he was then is Jon Cooper, and it would be tough even for a hockey team to fire a guy who has won back-to-back championships and is chasing a third.
Not out of the question, mind you, but tough.
The unemployment rate in the U.S. was, at last check, 3.6 percent. That’s not bad, but it might be even lower if NHL coaches were excluded from the calculations.
At the moment, no fewer than six of the 32 NHL clubs — Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Vegas, Winnipeg and Dallas — are searching for a new coach.
That list doesn’t include the New York Islanders, who already replaced Barry Trotz with Lane Lambert, or Florida and Chicago, neither of which has announced whether its interim coach — Andrew Brunette and Derek King, respectively — will be retained.
If teams seeking a coach prefer one with NHL experience, there is no shortage of candidates. They include Bruce Cassidy, Rick Tocchet, Paul Maurice, John Tortorella, Claude Julien and, of course, Trotz. Among others.
How do Pittsburgh Penguins fit in?
Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden ran the Washington bench for two years after succeeding Trotz there — the Capitals had two strong regular-seasons, but two first-round losses when he was in charge — and his impressive work with the Penguins’ defense corps hasn’t gone unnoticed around the league. (Although the team’s struggles on the power play, which he oversees, in 2021-22 probably didn’t do anything to raise his stock.)
His fellow assistant, Mike Vellucci, seems to already have attracted attention from at least one team; the Flyers are believed to have spoken to him about the possibility of replacing Mike Yeo.
Vellucci never has been a head coach in the NHL, but won a Calder Cup in 2019 while coaching Carolina’s top farm team and served as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s coach and GM before joining Sullivan’s staff in 2020.
The Penguins’ penalty-killing struggled in its first season under his guidance, but was among the finest in the league in 2021-22 before wilting in the stretch drive and playoffs.
Vellucci was mentioned as a candidate to succeed Tortorella in Columbus a year ago, but the Blue Jackets job eventually went to Brad Larsen.
So, will Reirden and/or Vellucci be hired elsewhere to run their own team next season? That’s hard to say, since there are lots of openings around the NHL, but also no shortage of qualified candidates to fill them.
In any case, there’s no guarantee the Pittsburgh Penguins’ current coaching staff will remain intact long enough to try to extend their streak of playoff appearances.