The Pittsburgh Penguins had their first bloodletting in nearly five years on Wednesday. The organization essentially fired the top three head coaches beneath head coach Mike Sullivan. Mark Recchi, Jacques Martin and Sergei Gonchar were not renewed on Wednesday. Suddenly, Sullivan is alone at the top.
The Penguins purge occurred after a second straight playoff flameout. The Penguins are 1-7 in the last two postseasons and have not shown an acceptable level of desire, according to GM Jim Rutherford.
It also appears it was Rutherford who made the call to clean house, which brings up several issues regarding Sullivan’s future.
“This is a difficult day for me, more difficult than you guys can imagine. I know how hard these guys work. They’re good coaches. They’re my friends,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been through a lot together. But when a team like ours doesn’t have success, change is inevitable.”
The Penguins power play finished in the middle of the pack, at 19.99%. A hot-streak in mid-January, in which the Penguins scored on six power-play goals in a four-game span (Jan. 12-18) buoyed those numbers. However, there were much longer droughts including 10 consecutive games in November.
Mike Sullivan admitted he hasn’t considered new hires yet, nor has he met with Rutherford to discuss the path forward. There are several former head coaches are on the market, including Gerard Gallant and Phil Housley. It could bear watching if the Penguins choose to hire a big-name coach as an assistant.
“I felt as though the message was fairly clear for a lot of the season,” said Sullivan. “That would suggest to me what the coaching staff is preaching is resonating with guys because for a lot of the year we had fairly decent success … That doesn’t make the result any easier. we understand when a team such as ours has the expectations that it has and we don’t meet them, we all have to take ownership.”
The next regular season is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1. Free agency will begin seven days after the Stanley Cup presentation, which could happen as late as Oct. 2, and training camps are to begin in mid-November.
Rutherford promised changes on Tuesday during his press conference. It seems he’s not wasting time.
“It’s very disappointing for all of us, the players included. This is an emotional time for me,” Sullivan said. “I know how hard everyone worked to put this team in the best possible position to have success. Hard work doesn’t always guarantee success.
I know we’ve got a committed group from a work ethic standpoint, but we’ve got to translate that into results. We fell short this year. We all have to take responsibility for it, but it always starts with the head coach. It starts with me.”
Follow PHN for up to the moment news and inside scoops on the Pittsburgh Penguins unfolding offseason. Later on Wednesday, we’ll publish inside details behind the Penguins purge, and what may come next for Mike Sullivan, exclusively for PHN+ subscribers.
And, for those who wonder, no Sullivan would not have made different decisions in the Qualifying Round series against Montreal.
“I’m not sure what I would have done differently at this point. As I always tell you guys, we try to make the best decisions that we can to try to help the team win.”