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— Mike Sullivan conducted the greatest coaching job in Penguins history during the 2016 Stanley Cup run. Regardless of how much damage the Penguins do or don’t do in the 2021 playoffs, this season from March 1st on, has been the second best coaching job of his tenure.

The 2016 run was majorly coach driven, while the 2017 run was just the perfect storm, from the goaltending combo, to favorable matchups, to at the end of the day, just a championship ‘will to win’ mentality the group had. Point is the 2017 Stanley Cup wasn’t the type of dominant system like play that overwhelmed teams in 2016.

Aside from job security Sullivan had due to his contract, at the time of the General Manager change, there were a ton of doubters even among Mike Sullivan’s biggest supporters in the organization that he could get this team to transform the way they play and become a team that plays with a new identity and structure in all three zones.

They had to become a team that defended in waves and whose staple would become turning defense into offense.

What needed to happen has played out in a big way that has the Penguins now being a team you can realistically look at and believe they can win at least a couple rounds if the identity/system like play they’ve developed for a sizeable stretch continues in the post-season.

It’s just as easy to envision this team getting ousted in the first round because of how equal the top three to four teams are in the division, but there was absolutely zero signs before the season and the first two months of the season that come May, the Penguins would transform into a legit Cup contender like they have.

Ron Hextall and Brian Burke have not made any personnel moves that look any different that what win-at-all costs Jim Rutherford would have done, but I’m still a firm believer that the regime change had a seismic impact on the turnaround in the sheer presence of their being a managerial change. It put almost everyone on their toes and has paid off.

Sidney Crosby has shown the obvious this season for the Penguins in that there’s still quite a few years to build around him with how elite of a 200ft player he’s become as he’s aged. There isn’t that same feeling surrounding Evgeni Malkin from the new regime, multiple sources say. There’s some pressure on Malkin as his return nears to fit in.

The most prominent discussion about Malkin’s long-term future and whether it makes the most sense to tie Sidney Crosby’s final great years to Malkin, is Malkin’s struggles Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

— As the saying goes, some of the best moves you make, are the ones you don’t make. Early in the past off-season, the Penguins shopped Jared McCann hard to gauged his trade value and former GM Jim Rutherford is said to have come awfully close to trading McCann to the Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

— Lots of pressure on Jason Zucker when the postseason comes around as he has some work to do in making the new regime believers and maybe even the head coach. There’s already scuttlebutt Hextall has been laying the groundwork on moving Zucker’s salary Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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