Mike Sullivan All-In On Penguins Winning It All Again
If the Penguins aren't again hoisting the Stanley Cup next June, it won’t be because anyone doubted such an outcome was possible.
Mike Sullivan is already contemplating a “Three-peat.”
Given all he and the Penguins have achieved since December of 2015, why wouldn’t he?
“Our message will be very similar going into this season,” the head coach confirmed. “Why not?”
Sullivan made that declaration this week at Allegheny Country Club, in advance of the Penguins reporting for training camp on Friday.
The occasion was the team’s “Summer Sticks” golf outing that annually precedes the Penguins’ return to the ice.
The event’s guests of honor –– the Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Prince of Wales and Conn Smythe trophies and, of course, the Stanley Cup –– silently but emphatically confirmed the plausibility of Sullivan’s contention.
The Penguins, remember, weren’t supposed to win last season, either, given that no team in the NHL had repeated since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.
The Penguins won again, anyway.
“This group of players has been through so many experiences and provided all kinds of evidence that they’re capable,” Sullivan continued. “There were a lot of people last year when we were going into training camp that were telling us that we couldn’t repeat. History was against us, statistics were against us, but these guys found ways to compete and bring their best effort every day and we ended up repeating with back-to-back championships.”
That had never been done in the NHL’s salary cap era.
But a three-peat has only been managed five times previously, the last time being the New York Islanders’ run of four consecutive Cups, the last of which was won in 1982-83.
Mario Lemieux’s Penguins couldn’t do it.
Even the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers couldn’t win three in a row while dominating the NHL to the tune of five Cups in seven seasons from 1983-84 through 1989-90 (Gretzky was in Los Angeles for the last one).
Sullivan’s aware of the history but undaunted in his belief that it has no bearing whatsoever on the present.
“People are telling us that we can’t,” he acknowledged. “The way I look at it is we have a core of players that are in the prime of their careers, we have a surrounding cast of players that are real competitive guys and we believe in this group that we have.
“They’ve shown an ability to play their best when the stakes are high and they know how to win.”
The group isn’t what it used to be now that Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Matt Cullen have joined the ranks of those who will be attempting to end rather than extend the Penguins’ run.
As for the returnees, Sullivan didn’t have to tell them twice a third consecutive championship is manageable.
- Justin Schultz: “We showed it last year. Once you get into it, we have that taste, we know what it feels like and we want to win it again. It’s as simple as that.”
- Matt Murray: “We know we have the team here and the staff here and we can be successful no matter who’s in our lineup. We’re a confident group and we have a heck of a lineup here once again this year.”
- Kris Letang: “The main guys, the key guys are still the same. We have the same core group. The younger guys have more experience, so it’s just going to help our team.”
If the Penguins don’t win it again this season, it won’t be because anyone doubted such an outcome was possible.
For Sullivan, the only at-times unfathomable aspect of what’s been taking place is how a guy who was summoned from the minors in the middle of a going-nowhere season two seasons ago could find himself in such a position in the first place.
“Sometimes, I just pinch myself,” he admitted.
Then he contemplates winning it all.