Sometimes an old voice works too.
The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Mike Sullivan, the winningest coach in team history, to a contract extension on Tuesday through the 2026-27 season. Sullivan is a two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach, and the Penguins have qualified for the post-season each season since he took over for Mike Johnston during the 2015-16 season.
""He is a great leader that finds success through communication, honesty and accountability. We know that Sully is committed to continuing a winning culture here in Pittsburgh.""- Penguins GM Ron Hextall
After early championship success, the Penguins have been eliminated in their first playoff round each of the last four seasons (including the qualifying round in 2020). No one doubts Sullivan is a top coach, and there are a lot of factors that go into why the Penguins have not reached the Conference Final since 2017, coaching included. But on Tuesday, GM Ron Hextall decided that despite recent disappointments, a new voice wasn't needed; an old reliable one was.
Like the Islanders in recent seasons, the Penguins decided to stay the course with their roster, signing star veterans Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Evgeni Malkin to go along with the great Sidney Crosby. In addition to those players being a cut above the players the Isles retained, the obvious difference going into next season is that GM Lou Lamoriello made a stunning move to relieve Barry Trotz of duties.
Lamoriello, like Hextall, did what he thought was best for the organization. Some wondered if the Penguins would've gone the same route as the Isles after their Game 7 loss to the Rangers, but instead, Hextall double-downed on Sullivan, who had two years remaining on his contract.
There's something to be said for a new leader in the room to inject energy and a sense of urgency into a team, but there's also something to be said for going to into a season with a known quantity. The Islanders had one of those in Trotz who had coached in more games and recorded more victories than any other active coach when the season ended.
That's not to say Lane Lambert won't be a good coach, he might be a great coach. But when you have a great coach, it is awfully hard to change course, which made Lamoriello's decision all that more bold. It was the move of a man that isn't worried about his reputation or what others that can't list his accomplishments will think.
The Penguins made the safe choice, which was the obvious choice. Sullivan's tenure is rare in the NHL, the 54-year-old now has spent the second longest time with one team behind only Jon Cooper, who has led the Tampa Bay Lightning to two Stanley Cups and three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals Meanwhile, the Islanders, who appeared to be, if nothing else stable, will start the season with one of their unknowns being behind the bench.
Two teams, two division rivals - two very different coaching choices with returning rosters mirroring those of prior seasons. This year and the ones to follow will show if one or both GMs made the right choice for their organization.