The Penguins started their off-season shakeup by not renewing the contracts of assistant coaches Sergei Gonchar, Jacques Martin and Mark Recchi.
That’s firing the head coach without firing the head coach.
Recchi had to go. He was in charge of the power play, and it tanked.
Martin is 67. Maybe it’s best to get out of the pandemic’s way. (Then again, GM Jim Rutherford is 71.)
Gonchar lives in Dallas and went home frequently during the season. Gonchar did great working individually with the defensemen. The examples of that are numerous, most recently John Marino. But perhaps it’s time for a more constant presence. (That said, it’s not a move I’d have made.)
It’s a bit surprising that goalie coach Mike Buckley didn’t get axed. But he yet may, depending on what the Penguins do with Matt Murray.
It will be interesting to see what direction the Penguins go when hiring new staff.
Philadelphia jumped way up the Eastern Conference standings with a staff that features, basically, three head coaches. Alain Vigneault is in charge. Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo (both ex- of this parish) are his assistants.
The Penguins miss Rick Tocchet (Mike Sullivan’s top assistant from 2014-17, now Arizona’s head coach) for a number of reasons, including his work with the power play.
But Tocchet was also unafraid to tell Sullivan when something wasn’t a good idea, and to suggest alternatives. That element likely wasn’t present with this past season’s staff.
A more opinionated, forthcoming staff might serve the Penguins well. Sullivan, too, though he may not think so.
Will there be a trickledown from the coaching staff shakeup?
More specifically, will Evgeni Malkin be upset that Gonchar got fired? The fellow Russians were like family.
If Malkin is bothered, perhaps he should have produced more than one assist in the debacle vs. Montreal, and better than 12 points and a minus-11 mark over the 17 games of his last three playoff years. Whoever departs from these Penguins can blame those they leave behind.
Anyway, now that the Penguins have totally stiffed in two straight playoff years, it’s time for that dynamic to be put to rest.
Malkin is 34. He shouldn’t need the Russian equivalent of an emotional support animal. It’s time for Crosby to stop having say in his linemates. Perhaps a less wide-open system should be adopted as a concession to age and fading speed.
Rutherford thinks the Penguins’ championship window is still open. Maybe it can be.
But the Penguins must start doing what they have to, not what they want to. For this franchise, that would be a monstrous adjustment.
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