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Penguins axe aides but keep Sullivan after bubble flop

Mike Sullivan will return as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins next season despite the team's qualifying-round loss to Montreal in this year's NHL post-season bubble competition - Gregory Shamus / ©AFP
Mike Sullivan will return as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins next season despite the team's qualifying-round loss to Montreal in this year's NHL post-season bubble competition - Gregory Shamus / ©AFP

(AFP)

The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped three assistant coaches Wednesday but said two-time Stanley Cup champion coach Mike Sullivan will return despite their qualifying-round exit from the National Hockey League bubble.

The Penguins were eliminated last week by 12th-seeded Montreal, the losingest squad of 24 who reached bubble games after a COVID-19 shutdown of the season in March.

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It marked the second consecutive season in which the Penguins were sent packing in their opening post-season series, which prompted owners to not renew contracts for assistant coaches Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin.

“This is a difficult day for me,” Sullivan said. “These guys are good coaches and they’re my friends. We’ve been through a lot together. But when teams with high expectations, such as ours, don’t have success, then change is inevitable.

“We all have to take responsibility for it. It starts with me.” 

Sullivan brought Pittsburgh the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, his first two seasons guiding the club, but recent flops had general manager Jim Rutherford warning, “I also have to review what has happened here at the end of the last two seasons.

“There has been a pattern in both seasons… when things don’t go our way, then we start to fizzle out. We don’t have that same drive and determination that we should have and that we need to have.” 

In announcing a review of the entire organization, Rutherford said, “We want to continue competing for Stanley Cups. The message to our fans is that ‘We are not rebuilding, we’re re-tooling.'” 

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