Penguins have lost 5 straight — but Sullivan likely safe
Still at least a week away from completing the first quarter of the season, teams are not waiting as long as in the recent past to make some hard decisions.
On Sunday, the Kings fired head coach John Stevens and two days later, the Blackhawks jettisoned widely respected
Joel Quenneville. Los Angeles and Chicago combined to win five of six Stanley Cups between 2009 and ’14, but both missed the playoffs last season. Now, another perennial powerhouse — Pittsburgh — is getting impatient up top. General manager Jim Rutherford took to the airwaves Wednesday with a blunt assessment of his team that takes a five-game losing streak into Saturday’s game against Arizona. This is the same Pittsburgh team that stood 6-2-2 after 10 games, and certainly not far removed from back-to-back Cups in 2016 and ’17.
“Has this team been together too long? It’s something I always have to watch for,” Rutherford said on his biweekly radio show. “When do you have to make those changes? The players are doing everything they can to tell me now’s the time.”
Rutherford doesn’t have a problem with Pittsburgh’s top players — forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and defenseman Kris Letang — but rather with young players who might have experienced success too fast and display tendencies to wait for their high-profile teammates to get the job done.
Rutherford is a savvy executive who knows exactly what he’s doing by putting out a strong message. He’ll wait to see how it’s received, and if the players respond in kind. He could have gone the Kings and ’Hawks route, but head coach
Mike Sullivan is certainly not to blame. There might be no one better to thank for two Cups than the ex-Sharks forward.
Expectations will be high in Pittsburgh as long as Crosby is around, and don’t expect him to go anywhere. People might forget the Pens improved from a 58-point team during Crosby’s rookie season of 2005-06 to 105 points in 2006-07 when Malkin debuted. Pittsburgh lost in the Cup Finals in ’08, but prevailed a year later with a Game 7 victory on the road.
To put into perspective, the Oilers would have to win the Cup this season for Connor
McDavid — considered as the best player in the world — to match what Crosby accomplished by the end of his fourth season in the league.
Malkin, Kessel and Letang are signed through 2022 with hefty balances left on their contracts. Crosby’s 12-year deal signed in 2014 runs through 2025. Don’t look for any of those Penguins to move. If anything, Rutherford will look to boost his defense and secondary scoring. He’s not thrilled with his goaltending, so there could be a shakeup there, too.
No booing: Commissioner
Gary Bettman gains entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. The league has grown from 24 to 31 teams (No. 32 Seattle is on its way, too) since Bettman took the job in 1993. The NHL is a $5 billion industry despite three lockouts — including the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season — on his watch.
Goalie Martin Brodeur, winger Martin St. Louis, trailblazer Willie O’Ree, Canadian women’s player Jayna Hefford and Russian Alexander Yakushev, who did not play in the NHL, will be inducted along with Bettman in Toronto on Monday.
Got what he deserved:
Turns out the Uber driver, who circulated a video of unbeknownst Ottawa Senators disparaging an assistant coach and poking fun at their poor special-teams play during the ride, has been fired. James
Sparklin, a father of six, called his act “the dumbest decision of my life.”
Not in the Stars: Top defenseman John Klingberg will be lost to the Stars for at least three weeks after undergoing surgery Friday for a hand injury sustained against the Sharks on Thursday. Since 2014, Klingberg is second on the team in ice time (23:09) and third in points (227).
Briefly: A Kings franchiserecord sellout streak, including playoffs, reached 297 games before ending Thursday. The streak started Dec. 1, 2011. … The Bruins have granted All-Star goalie Tuukka
Rask a leave of absence for a personal matter. He is not hurt, and not expected to be gone from the team for more than a couple of days. … Dave
Tippett has withdrawn himself for consideration for the job of expansion Seattle’s first head coach. He’s more interested in a front-office role with the team expected to be granted franchise status next month by the NHL’s Board of Governors.
Things are not going so well with head coach Mike Sullivan, forward Sidney Crosby (87), defenseman Jack Johnson (73) or the rest of the Penguins. Sullivan, who guided the Pens to two Stanley Cup titles, is not expected to be fired.