Kingerski: Keep Mike Sullivan, Ditch Players Who Won't Buy In
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Kingerski: Keep Mike Sullivan, Ditch Players Who Won’t Buy In

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Mike Sullivan isn’t one the Pittsburgh Penguins problems. Moving forward, he is part of the long term solution. The one, two or three players who do not want to join the team concept are part of the problem and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford must move them along in favor of players who will.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned in the Pittsburgh Penguins Round One sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders is not that a specific structure or system is superior but to covet a team’s ability to believe and implement a structure which fits their personnel.

Identity, buy-in, and execution can beat talent. Remember that.

When some ask how losing talented players can improve the Penguins, remember the hard lessons of Round One. It’s not always the best players, it is the right players.

Without a couple of their star players for most of March, the Penguins played a hard, coordinated game under Sullivan and won games.

With all of their star players back in the lineup in April, the Penguins played an individual, mistake-prone game and lost. The Pittsburgh Penguins had chances and the ability to beat New York but they lacked consistency and execution. Mistakes piled up as players tried to do their own thing instead of the team thing.

“I don’t have an answer for it. The reality is we win as a group, and we lose a group and we’re all a part of it. We’ve all got to take responsibility. It’s disappointing,” said Sullivan regarding his team’s March to April disparity. “We had high expectations of this team. We believe we have good players, and we have the potential to be a good team, and we obviously did not play well enough to win.”

There is only one player who should get a say in Mike Sullivan’s future behind the Penguins bench: Sidney Crosby.

Everyone else must either buy into the system and team concept or be shown the door. It really is that simple. The Penguins success in March proved there are far more players who adopted and participated in Sullivan’s system than did not. And it should have proved to everyone the concept of addition by subtraction, even when that subtraction is incredibly talented.

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A simple eye test tells you the couple or few players who did not. And yes, those players make a lot of money and scored a lot of points but as New York proved, complete teams can beat talent. If the Penguins want a last gasp to this dynasty, they must become a team again.

Side note: Evgeni Malkin is NOT going anywhere unless he demands it. Note Malkin’s exemplary play in 2017-18 with linear players Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist which nearly earned Malkin the Art Ross and Hart Trophies. Malkin is a difficult player but one who is swayed by those around him.

Surround Malkin players who eat and sleep the system, and Malkin will play the system, too.

Don’t subscribe to the old cliche that hockey coaches only last four, maybe five seasons. If Sullivan lost the room and the players in question were young cornerstones, it would be different. However, the Penguins players proved on-ice changes were necessary and Sullivan should win any either-or battles.

Barry Trotz didn’t outcoach Mike Sullivan in Round One. Trotz’ troops stuck to his plan while Penguins defensemen pinched at bad times, forwards didn’t cover their responsibilities or didn’t get the puck to the open ice when it was most required. The Penguins team was required to fight for each other and fight to the net for opportunity or an extra shot.

Some did. Some didn’t.

And all of the power play points in the world and all of the regular season goals do not equal the output of playing the team game in a seven-game series.

Sullivan told his team early in the season the new NHL game would require heavy low play as a required component. He was absolutely correct. Players have told PHN they believe Sullivan to be a good Xs and Os coach. In 2017, Penguins center Matt Cullen called him the best. Sullivan is also adept at tactical and in-game adjustments.

But those things are difficult to spot when key players ignore them in a default setting to an old style of play.

The Penguins owe it to themselves and Mike Sullivan to dress a team which will execute to the best of their ability instead of believing the system prevents their best. Sullivan is part of the solution, as long as the rest of the room and Sidney Crosby believes it.

 

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Rich Filardi

    April 18, 2019 at 7:28 am

    For me Dan – it’s Kessel and Letang who go.

  2. Ricardo58

    April 18, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Maybe your best article to date. Thank you for echoing many of the fans same thoughts. i am biased of course like most fans, as 87 is only second to 66 in my view as the greatest Pittsburgh pro athlete of all time. Of course 21 of the Pirates is in my top 3.
    I say this to note 71, while very talented and accomplished, is or has not been at the same consistent level of 87 in my opinion. i am a strong backer of 71, but his perceived petulant and selfish behavior grows tiresome as he is 32. i certainly can describe 58 and 81 in the same manner. Addition through subtraction. Time to move on and build a team again around 87. Go Pens.

    • Darcie Edwards

      April 18, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      Doesn’t it speak volumes that the team played better without Letang and Malkin? The power play was better and the team just looked so much stronger. And face it. If you follow his and his wife’s social media, you will see she greatly dislikes Pittsburgh because it doesn’t fit her lifestyle. I mean, less than 10 minutes after their final loss, she posts that Moscow is coming soon. This kind of attitude must affect how Geno has played. I bet if the Pens offered a trade to either Florida or the two LA teams, she’d, oops, I mean, Geno would jump on it.

      As for Letang, no defenseman should take 206 shots during the season. If he wants to play forward, make him one and get a defenseman who won’t give up so many odd man rushes, who doesn’t constantly pinch and a guy who wants to play defense.

    • Terrence

      April 18, 2019 at 7:33 pm

      selfish my ass geno has been a great ambassador for this organization a 3 time cup champion ,he’s won a conn smythe,a hart trophy what freaking more do you want for gods sakes

      • Joseph Berardo

        April 23, 2019 at 10:13 pm

        Just because a player has helped win 3 cups doesn’t mean that his time has come or that he is not helping the team anymore. Kunitz won 4 cups and he was expendable. Of course Kunitz is not Malkin or even close but he was a huge part of 3 cups here. I’m not saying Malkin should be traded but he is hurt a lot and takes far to many penalties and also makes way too many passes to nobody or bad passes that result in the puck going the other way. . Malkin plays hard only when Malkin wants to and is slowing down faster than Sid if Sid has slowed down at all. Malkin is going nowhere but if he ever wants to be moved the Pens should do it in a heartbeat.

  3. Jake Hanner

    April 18, 2019 at 10:22 am

    I agree with a lot of this thinking. But I’m confused why Mr. Sullivan changed all four lines as soon as the playoffs started.? We had four lines that were really gelling down the stretch and we seemed to be finding an identity. The inability to find line combinations that stick seemed to be a problem going into the playoffs last season as well.

    • Matt Luda

      April 18, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      Gelling? This team scored more than three goals a grand total of two times in its last 15 games. If that’s gellin’, then I’m a felon.

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  5. RobertU

    April 18, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    Yep! Incidentally, this is why I didn’t like moving Hagelin. He seems like a system guy, unlike some others who freelance. See also: Reaves; should’ve kept him. I’d move Kessel and Letang for sure. I’d try to move Maatta but IDK what value there is there. I’d take offers on Malkin. His act is getting old. That said, he’s not going anywhere, so I’d make him work with a sports psychologist to deal with his issues. And then I’d bench him frequently until he got the message and bought in. They need to make the most of Sid’s remaining productive years.

  6. Matt Luda

    April 18, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    Feel bad for Sullivan, a terrific coach. He has preached focus and discipline for two seasons, but too many players have a different agenda.

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