This week, Pittsburgh Hockey Now wrote glowingly about Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan and his effect on the NHL. We didn’t get a chance to chat with former Penguins center and current development coach Matt Cullen before publishing, but we had a nice chat with one of the leaders of the Penguins’ recent Stanley Cup teams.
And Cullen readily agreed with Sullivan’s effect and the fallout across the NHL.
For Penguins fans who remember the tales of the Cullen boys running around in the locker room, sometimes playing tape hockey, and sometimes pulling mischievous pranks, those little boys are now aged 16, 14, and 12. Cullen’s eldest will get his driver’s license this week.
In what regard do a lot of players hold Sullivan? Cullen compared him to one of the best coaches of all time.
“He’s got a good grasp of the technical side of the game. As a player, you can feel it right away. Like Bill Belichick,” Cullen said. “This guy’s got a firm grasp. He loves the game. He’s always studying and staying current.”
“(Sullivan) feels trends or is a step ahead. He’s constantly evolving.”
The 2016 Penguins Stanley Cup championship team was a unique conglomeration of talent. They were faster than everyone by a significant amount, but that was just one ingredient. There was an undefined anger and desire in that group that I’d never seen before or since. The more they won, the bigger that figurative chip was on their shoulder.
But that speed that Sullivan unleashed changed the game.
“I think so. We played faster. With a higher tempo. That was the biggest factor,” said Cullen.
Last week, Dave Molinari suggested that Matt Cullen, known as “Dad” during his time with the Penguins, would be worthy of the Penguins’ consideration if they needed to replace an assistant coach. I chatted with Cullen when he was in the car on the way back from one of the boys’ practices. He seems pretty happy coaching the kids and being a dad who gets to work with the Penguins’ development on a limited basis.
Unsigned Pittsburgh Penguins UFAs
At the NHL trade deadline, Zach Aston-Reese was part of the Penguins’ deal for Rickard Rakell. In came Rakell. Out went Dominik Simon and Aston-Reese (and a second-round pick and prospect Calle Clang).
Sources familiar with the situation tell PHN that Aston-Reese has interest from 2-3 teams but is deciding or waiting for the right situation. Aston-Reese wants to be the third-liner the Penguins signed, not the defensive specialist he limited himself to by the end of his Penguins career.
He had a few goals with the Anaheim Ducks after the NHL trade deadline. Sources didn’t specify the interested teams, but he’ll have options, even if he’s waiting to see if there’s a perfect situation. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not believed to be one of the options.
Brian Boyle was a surprise. The 37-year-old center earned his way from a PTO in training camp to an indispensable member of the Penguins PK and the leading scorer among fourth-liners. He had 12 goals.
Sources reported “no updates” for Boyle since we spoke last month. It’s believed Boyle has more than a passing interest in returning to the Penguins, but there’s no room at the Inn. Would Boyle accept a contract knowing he may get sent to the AHL due to cap and roster limitations? That isn’t known, but if he hopes to return to the Penguins, a trade would be necessary, or a willingness to demote a younger set of legs, such as Ryan Poehling.
Or, perhaps Boyle signs after camp? It’s not unheard of for a team to get a good look at what they have, then decide a player like Boyle is better.
Evan Rodrigues continues to be the surprise of the UFA class. The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks kicked tires, if not full discussions. However, Rodrigues remains unsigned. The former Penguins forward had 19 goals last season. He was integral to the Penguins’ first-half success when they played without Evgeni Malkin and a simultaneous stretch without Sidney Crosby.
It seems strange that he is not yet signed, but he, too, seems to be holding out for a better situation.