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Sullivan: Penguins Have a Need for Speed. Quickly.



Mike Sullivan

When a team fails to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Pittsburgh Penguins did this spring, it obviously has some shortcomings.

Those could involve anything from physicality to depth and from size to skill, among other things.

During an online session with reporters Friday morning, coach Mike Sullivan acknowledged that the Penguins have multiple areas to address before next season, and cited one that he considers particularly significant: Speed.

Skating was a hallmark of Sullivan’s Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2016 and 2017, but as the Penguins have gotten older, they’ve also gotten a bit slower. Or so it seems, anyway, if only because the rest of the league has been stressing that aspect of the game in recent seasons.

The Penguins don’t overwhelm opponents with their skating anymore; they’re sometimes hard-pressed just to keep up.

That, Sullivan suggested, is something that will be a priority for the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by new president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas, to focus on upgrading this summer.

“Speed has always been an important element (of the Penguins’ success in recent seasons),” he said. “I think speed is part of the evolution of the game. You look at the teams that are having success in the league, none of them are slow.

“I think that’s an aspect we can improve. There’s lots of other areas that I think we’ve looked at — we can talk for a long time on this subject — but if I were to point to one aspect, I think that’s an area we could look to improve.

“I also think it’s feasible (to do so). We have an opportunity in this offseason to try to surround our (core) group with what it needs to have success.”

The final call on personnel moves fall go to Dubas, who plans to serve as interim general manager until at least sometime in July.

Sullivan said he “had not had a prior relationship with Kyle, up until the last week or so,” but that his early discussions with Dubas indicate their philosophies appear to be in synch.

“Kyle and I have had a couple of conversations, just around the identity of the Penguins, how the Penguins have had success,” he said. “Trying to set the team up to play to their strengths.”

So far, however, they have not had an in-depth talk about specific moves that would benefit the Penguins.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions, but nothing in detail to this point,” Sullivan said. “But I’m sure that will change here in the near future.”

Although Fenway Sports Group officials had said when Ron Hextall was fired as GM April 14 that Sullivan would play a prominent role in the search for his replacement, Sullivan said “I wasn’t very involved at all in the process” until he was asked to speak with Dubas, who had been GM in Toronto until a couple of weeks ago.

“We had a couple of really substantive discussions,” Sullivan said. “We talked about our organization. We talked about some philosophies. Where we’re at, where we’re going. … I don’t want to put words in Kyle’s mouth, but I think it was evident to me that we shared a lot of the same thoughts and ideas on where our team is at and how we can improve.”

Dubas said Sullivan and goaltending coach Andy Chiodo will have considerable input on whether the Pittsburgh Penguins should try to retain No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry, who will be an unrestricted free agent if not re-signed by July 1.

Sullivan did not divulge what he would tell Dubas, but indicated that he would not dismiss the idea of going with two relatively equal goaltenders, rather than having a clear No. 1 and a backup. That’s a formula several teams have used successfully in this year’s playoffs.

“When you look at the evolution of the league, there aren’t a lot of goaltenders in today’s game … that go wire-to-wire and play 70-plus games, plus playoffs,” he said. “There might be a couple that approach that, but the majority of the league, I think, has evolved into a different model, so to speak, on how they utilize their goaltenders.

“I’ve never been a believer that you can rely on just one guy. I know we have some tough decisions there, and certainly, that will be part of the discussion we’ll have with Kyle here over the next week or so.”