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Kingerski: Time for Changes Behind Penguins Bench



Pittsburgh Penguins, Todd Reirden, Penguins coaches

The noise and chatter surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins this week have not yet yielded a conclusion, but if there are changes coming, they should start behind the Penguins’ bench.

Associate coach Todd Reirden, who runs the power play and defensemen, oversaw two areas of significant concern this season, with very little improvement, if not a downward spiral. Per club policy, assistant coaches no longer speak to the media, so we don’t know much about the internal workings of the Penguins coaching room or the opinions of those coaches, but the undeniable truth is that the things under Reirden’s charge didn’t work.

They stunk, actually.

In the unforgiving world of professional sports, the well-respected Reirden should be the first Penguins change of the offseason.

Several regressions and worsening problems occurred directly under Reirden. The Penguins’ power play was not effective at any point in the season. It has been stagnant, and calling it ineffective for two years running might be the kindest thing anyone could say.

In a season in which one more win would have made a huge difference, the number of failed power plays at crucial times and the league-worst 12 shorthanded goals against were a pox upon the club.

In 2022-23, the Penguins’ power play clicked at a perfectly pedestrian 21.7%, placing them 14th overall. That performance seems incredible contrasted to the abysmal 2023-24 power play, which converted just 15.3%. Only two teams were worse (the Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets).

The 2023-24 version featured four sure-fire Hall-of-Famers after the team acquired Erik Karlsson on Aug. 6, 2023.

And yet, the power play was reliably terrible.

Head coach Mike Sullivan is surely not without blame in the matter, and all things rest at his doorstep, but the Penguins need changes. There needs to be something different about the 2024-25 season, lest even the results are the same.

Sullivan is about to begin a three-year extension with a $5.5 million salary. By all indications from Dubas, Sullivan is safe, though he should be called to account for the staggering number of no-shows and generally lifeless performances that haunted the Penguins’ season.

The other knock on Reirden isn’t insignificant, either. The Penguins’ defensemen did not have a good season en masse. Only Marcus Pettersson could claim a better year than last.

Kris Letang had a remarkable first half as he adopted a more defensive role, allowing Erik Karlsson to take more offensive prominence, but he regressed in the second half. Injuries played a role in Letang’s regression, though the injuries were a closely guarded secret until the end of the year when Letang needed to miss practices and morning skates.

The team didn’t really see the best version of Karlsson, the reigning Norris Trophy winner. P.O Joseph had a difficult year until catching lightning on the top pairing with Letang in the final two months.

Add Ryan Graves’s consistent and significant struggles, and the blue line’s overall grade wouldn’t be much better than the power play’s mark.

Reirded is touted specifically for his ability to work with defensemen, but the scrambled nature of the blue line only adds heat to the necessity of change.

The Penguins AHL club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is currently sans a coaching staff. Perhaps Reirden could be re-assigned instead of dismissed.

How can anything change if nothing changes? The Pittsburgh Penguins will invite back most of the same roster for the 2024-25 season and age will have added another mile to the odometer of the already oldest team in the NHL.

The team’s stretch run, when it went 8-1-3, rightfully added some optimism to the future, but the first 68 games and being nine points out of the playoffs on March 27 can’t be ignored.