Hello everyone, and welcome once again to the State of the Penguins Address. If you are unfamiliar with this, it started as an annual piece after the 2014 season where we discuss the current state of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This piece has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and right now the feeling is pretty damn low. The Penguins flamed out of the playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens losing the opening round series 3-1 and getting shut out in Game Four. The current state of the Penguins is a weird one. Their window isn't closed but at the same time it is slowly creeping closer to closing unless something in this organization changes. We will talk about that here in a bit, but in the meantime sit back, relax and thank you for joining us for 2020's State of the Penguins Address.
Things were looking might fine for the Penguins. The NHL season had to pause and during that time Jake Guentzel got healthy and the best hockey player on the planet got to rest for four months. The pieces were falling into place for another long playoff run and possibly another Stanley Cup. That all came to a screeching halt at the hands of a team that shouldn't have even been in the playoffs had the season never paused. How could all of this happen? The Penguins had the deepest group of forward since the '16 & '17 Cup runs. Matt Murray had a chance to rest and hopefully find his game. Mike Sullivan had ample time to come up with a game plan to face a vastly inferior team. So what happened? Well to be quite frank an absolute cluster fuck happened. (I was allowed three F bombs in this piece and I plan to use them). The Penguins underperformed, Matt Murray wasn't bad but he wasn't great, and Mike Sullivan was seriously out-coached by Claude friggin' Julien. We could go to great detail talking about the roster but we plan to do that at another time. We'd be here forever if we did. Today, we plan to focus and the final point we made. A point that has become all too common, at least over the last three post seasons. Mike Sullivan getting seriously out-coached, twice by Barry Trotz, and once by Claude Julien. Since losing to the Caps in 2018, the Penguins have, let me check my notes here, one whole playoff win. At one point this team had lost seven playoff games in a row. One word comes to mind when you think about those things. Unacceptable. Things need to change and they need to change fast if the Penguins want any chance to win one more Cup with Crosby and Malkin on the team. Malkin just turned 34. Crosby just turned 33. These guys don't have many years left and the Penguins need to capitalize on them. But right now the guy that pulls the strings and pushes the buttons isn't making that happen. We decided to wait a few days to bring you this address and we are glad we did.
The Penguins took some steps on August 12th to make some changes. They chose not to renew the contracts of Assistant Coaches Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, and Jaques Martin. Gonchar and Martin not being renewed is fairly surprising. Recchi not being renewed isn't. He was in charge of the Penguins power play. To be quite honest, the Penguins power play is absolutely fucking miserable (F-bomb #2). Recchi had to go. Fresh ideas are needed and something to play to the strengths of the talent that the Penguins have. For a power play that has Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Letang, and Hornqvist, they should not look as absolutely incompetent as they do most of the time. The Penguins have absolutely no direction on the power play. The players where there but they had to improvise because there was no vision for the power play. That was made all more evident by what one player told the Athletic.
Via The Athletic
Those changes are a good start. But it may be time to make an even bigger coaching change. Yes. We are talking about Mike Sullivan. You'll probably read that and think we are crazy and you'll probably punch the air and yell "HE WON TWO CUPS". He also lost seven playoff games in a row. He has one playoff win since 2018. He has lost the last three playoff series he has coached in and his team has looked absolutely abysmal in those three series. We don't think the Penguins will fire him this offseason, though. The subject of should he be fired is up for debate. Those numbers we just listed are unacceptable. What isn't up for debate is that Mike Sullivan should be on very thin ice right now. With the talent this team has, they cannot continue to flame out to vastly inferior opponents because the other coach is slapping you in the face and you are taking it. A number of things bother us right now about Sullivan. First, his lack of adjustments. The Pens have been stifled multiple times over the last three post seasons and Mike Sullivan continues to just ram his head straight into a wall and look at what the other teams are doing to stop them and adjust his game plan. It is mind blowing and quite honestly reminds us of the end of the Dan Bylsma era. The Penguins won Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 with speed and a relentless forecheck. The last time we saw that was Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals and we haven't seen it since. Why?
Second, his in-game decisions: With two minuets left in the game down by one goal who would you want on the ice? Sidney Crosby or Zach Aston-Reese? I'm sure all of you would say Sidney Crosby. Well, not Mike Sullivan. He would routinely trot out the third and fourth lines late in the game and in crucial situations. Another question for you...down one late in the game and you pull your goalie...which player would you put on the ice? Player A who has nine goals in three seasons, or player B who led the team in goals this season with 27? Player A is Justin Schultz, player B is Bryan Rust. Mike Sullivan went with Justin Schultz. Absolutely mind blowing. This happened multiple times in the series against Montreal. Each time became more and more infuriating.
The third item is his roster decisions. Everyone and their brother could see Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz were trash all series. Down two games to one in the series, going into an elimination game you'd think Sullivan would make some changes and insert Juuso Riikola and or Chad Ruhwedel into the lineup. Nope. Johnson and Schultz remained in the game and ended up with more ice time than John Marino. When asked about it today Sullivan had this to say:
What. The. Fuck. The lineup wasn't working. The bottom two defenseman were on the ice for 60% of the goals in this series yet Sullivan trotted them out there. Do those guys have incriminating evidence against Sullivan or something because there is no reason Sullivan shouldn't have taken those guys out of the lineup. Well, there is and that brings us to our fourth and final point. Mike Sullivan's ego. We have seen it with multiple players since 2017. Sullivan would rather be right than admit he was wrong and make a change to his lineup. He didn't like Juuso Riikola. Obviously Riikola is no Paul Coffey but for Christ sake he can't be any worse than Jack Johnson is. This has happened multiple times over the last three seasons with various other players and quite honestly it has hindered the Penguins each and every time. You're the damn coach. Get your feelings out of it and coach the damn team. If you need some evidence...here you go:
via The Athletic
Big yikes. To go to the lengths of surrounding yourself by 'yes men' just so you can be right all the time is beyond childish.
Despite all of this the Penguins made the playoffs again and still own the longest active playoff streak in the league. At times it seems like they are succeeding in spite of Sullivan instead of because of him. Has Mike Sullivan lost the locker room? Maybe. Multiple players were quoted in the Athletic questioning a lot of what Mike Sullivan did in the series vs Montreal:
via The Athletic
via The Athletic
Is his current system not working anymore? Also, maybe. Has Sullivan just totally gone away from what brought him so much success in 2016 and 2017? Also, maybe. Mike Sullivan isn't getting fired this offseason but if they are going to do it, it should happen soon while a coach like Gerard Gallant is still available. Can the Penguins afford to wait to see what happens next season to decide Sullivan's future? That is up for debate. We would like to see the Penguins hire someone as an assistant that can be readily available to take over Sullivan if things aren't good next season. I'm not sure how comfortable we are with the Penguins just promoting from Wilkes-Barre again. They've struck gold twice by doing so but at some point it isn't going to work anymore.
Mike Sullivan isn't the only problem the Penguins have right now, but it's time to take a long look in regards to his future with this team should they continue down the path they are on. Crosby and Malkin are speeding towards the end of their careers and hopefully this is a reality check and something clicks within this organization to make some more changes around here. If they don't, it may be a while before the Penguins even sniff dancing with Lord Stanley once again.
Ladies and Gentlemen that concludes our annual State of the Penguins Address. We thank you all for joining us. We'll have at least one more post this offseason but other than that, you won't find us here until next season whenever that may be. We will still trolling around on Twitter and making people mad there. You can find us on there at @PensOfAnarchy. We thank you all for following along with us this season and for all of the interactions on Facebook and Twitter.
Until next time
Old Posts from our site, heyyyyyfannnssss (4/11-2/15). Cute name, but impossible to remember.