Courtesy of Point Park University

Sullivan on contract, meeting with Malkin, more


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Evgeni Malkin. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

There were times when it seemed like working out a new contract with Mike Sullivan wasn't very high on Jim Rutherford's to-do list

That it was something Rutherford would try to get around to after he finished trimming the shrubbery in his yard and clipping his dog's toenails.

As recently as Monday, Rutherford said, "I would like to see him stay long-term. But when I will get to that, I don't know."

Well, it turns out that he got to it a lot sooner than expected, because Sullivan has accepted a four-year deal that will run through the 2023-24 season.

And while Rutherford never sounded as if reaching an agreement to keep Sullivan on the payroll was a real priority, Sullivan said he never doubted that a deal would be struck.

"Jim and I had had conversations since the end of the season that we would discuss this possibility," Sullivan said. "Jim is a great communicator, and he has talked to me since the end of the season about this whole process. We both had a comfort level on where it was at. ... I was never in the dark, or that sort of thing."

Sullivan added that he never considered serving out the final year of his current deal, then exploring free agency. After all, there might have been a pretty fair market for a guy with a couple of Stanley Cups on his resume.

Especially when he's the only coach in more than two decades to win consecutive championships.

"I knew through this whole process that I wanted to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins," Sullivan said. "I have so much respect for the group of people that I get to go to work with every day. ... It really is a privilege to coach this team, and to coach in this organization. ... (Exploring free agency) was never something that I ever really considered, or thought of."

Of course, working out a new contract for Sullivan wasn't the only significant move Rutherford has made since the New York Islanders swept the Penguins out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

He has traded defenseman Olli Maatta and right winger Phil Kessel -- the latter of whom had a relationship with Sullivan that, from all accounts, could charitably be characterized as strained -- and added forwards Dominik Kahun and Alex Galchenyuk, moves that Sullivan was quick to endorse.

"We're all very much on the same page," he said. "We are all in the loop, as far as what Jim's trying to accomplish and how he's trying to improve our team. We talked about three things: We tried to get a little bit younger. We certainly tried to get faster. And we wanted to become a team that's more difficult to play against.

"When you look at some of the players that Jim's acquired, I think they check a lot of those boxes. I believe that energy and that enthusiasm is contagious. That alone, I think, is going to benefit all of us when we go back to training camp."

He suggested that the Penguins had gone a bit stale, and that their personnel mix will benefit from the addition of a few outsiders who openly admitted that they are eager to join this club.

"When you think about teams that are successful, they certainly have a certain chemistry that allows them to maximize the group," he said. "It's the responsibility of everyone involved -- myself included, as the head coach -- to try to work toward that goal. I can look back on our Stanley Cup championship teams, and those were teams that had that certain level of chemistry that's essential to winning.

"We just felt that, as a group, we didn't come together like we could have, or should have, in order to maximize the potential of our group. It's not any one person or two people's fault. It's the responsibility of everybody involved to make sure they're making a positive contribution in that regard."

Losing Maatta was a blow to the Penguins' defensive depth and Kessel's departure opened a point-per-game void. At the very least, Sullivan seems confident that the team has several capable candidates to assume Kessel's spot on the left side of the No. 1 power play unit.

"We have a lot of options on our power play," he said. "Jake (Guentzel) is a guy we know can play on that first unit and be very productive. We have the ability to use two defensemen (Kris Letang and Justin Schultz), if we like. Alex Galchenyuk is an interesting player who has shown an ability to score goals and can really shoot the puck."

Sullivan didn't mention anything about moving Evgeni Malkin there, but left no doubt that he expects big things from Malkin in 2019-20. They met recently, in the wake of Malkin's disappointing season, and had what Sullivan described as a "great conversation."

"I know (Malkin) is excited about coming back to training camp and helping this team win," Sullivan said. "We're very much on the same page. He's an elite player. He'll continue to be an elite player in this league. He's been one of the best players of his generation, and he'll continue to be that."

Rutherford figures to make at least one more personnel change before training camp, so there's no way of knowing precisely what the depth chart will look like in a couple of months. Regardless, Sullivan was adamant that he likes the look of his roster.

"We believe we have a group here that has the potential to be a very competitive hockey team," Sullivan said. "Now, the challenge is, for all of us that are part of it, to come together and bring that to fruition."

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