The Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach search is over, but it didn’t yield fresh faces to the organization. On Wednesday, the Penguins named former Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden and current Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Coach and GM Mike Vellucci as the new Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coaches, according to a team release.
The Penguins cleaned the bench around head coach Mike Sullivan when they fired Jacques Martin, Mark Recchi, and Sergei Gonchar following the Penguins four-game ouster in the NHL postseason.
On Tuesday, GM Jim Rutherford told a national podcast he felt the team “needed one or two new ideas.”
According to the Penguins release, Reirden, 49, will oversee the Penguins defensive group and the maligned power-play. Vellucci, 54, will work with the forwards and manage the penalty kill.
“Todd is a Stanley Cup-winning coach with a decade of NHL experience as both an assistant and head coach,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Mike brings championship experience at both the AHL and OHL level and is very familiar with how we function as an organization.”
Rutherford hired Vellucci as the WBS Penguins coach, and eventually, the GM after Bill Guerin left the Penguins organization to be the Minnesota Wild GM.
In 2017-18, Vellucci led the Charlotte Checkers to the AHL Calder Cup championship.
Reirden was first the WBS Penguins head coach in 2009-10 before he became an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins four seasons, from 2010-2014. He and fellow assistant coach Tony Granato were fired as the Penguins cleaned house by removing GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma.
Reirden became an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals under Barry Trotz and eventually succeeded Trotz as the Washington head coach in 2018. However, Reirden’s Washington team lost their Round One playoff series in each of his two seasons, and the organization removed him last month.
One reason the Penguins dismissed former assistant coach Mark Recchi was the Penguins’ inconsistent power-play, which head coach Mike Sullivan publicly criticized during the NHL postseason. Reirden will take over the unit, which had a 19.9% conversion rate.
Washington had a 19.4% rate this season but frequently generates heavy pressure. Something the Penguins failed to do.
Vellucci was the coach and GM of the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL for 14 seasons, from 2001-2014. He left Plymouth to become the assistant GM and Director of Player Development for the Carolina Hurricanes under then-GM and current Penguins GM Jim Rutherford.
Vellucci spent three years with the Carolina Hurricanes before he became the head coach of the Carolina farm team in Charlotte.
Also on Wednesday, the Penguins have signed goaltending coach Mike Buckley to a two-year contract extension. The contract will keep him with the Penguins through the 2021-22 season.
Vellucci finally gets his crack at the NHL, and we’re going to find out what he’s got. He didn’t have much to work with at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but he’ll be a friendly face if a couple of players make the AHL to NHL jump, including P-O Joseph.
Reirden is best suited as an assistant coach. His head coaching tenure in Washington did not go well and ended in a pair of embarrassing playoff losses. Washington has a consistent and lethal power play, even though Washington ranked behind the Penguins.
He will have a difficult task corralling the Penguins power play and keeping players such as Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin on task. Reirden will also run the Penguins defense, which means he’ll have to integrate one or more new faces, and possibly the 21-year-old Joseph, into the NHL.
Reirden will not have an easy task. He may also be responsible for the further development of RFA defenseman Juuso Riikola.
You may also notice the Penguins added two coaches with head coaching experience. While Reirden may not be a serious candidate to take over another NHL bench for a while, Vellucci is a recent AHL champion. Either could be an interim bench boss if the Penguins season goes sideways, and Sullivan pays the price.