Mike Sullivan won’t have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin to start the 2021-22 season. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but fortunately (or...probably unfortunately is a better word), this is not new ground for the Penguins. The team has had to make do without one or both of their best centers for way more than they would have liked to over the years due to various injuries and maladies.
Coach Mike Sullivan gave some insight to The Athletic’s “Hockey Show” podcast last week, and though he was talking at first about the US Olympic team that he will coach this winter, a lot of the following comments can easily applied and moved over to how he will have to manage in Pittsburgh early this season:
one of the most important jobs of the head coach, regardless of what team you’re coaching, is to steer the identity of the group, shape the identity of the group. What’s our competitive advantage? What are we good at? How do we play to our strengths? Implement a game plan that allows us to do that, and then cast players in certain roles that help them understand what the expectation is, so that they know what they can hang their hat on. This is my contribution to helping this team. That’s not to say that we’re gonna pigeonhole guys in certain spots, and that they can’t grow into something bigger or better, right? But it is important that players understand why they’re on the roster. What their strength is. What they’re bringing to the table. What their contribution is to helping the team win.
And we talk about that in Pittsburgh all the time. I have those conversations with our players daily. And sometimes players need to be reminded of those core competencies, and why they’re on the roster. I really think that’s one of my most important jobs as a head coach. And then, there’s a player’s responsibility to embrace that. They need to embrace that challenge. They need to be accepting of roles. They need to get excited about it.
The Penguins, long known and regarded as an offensive-minded team, are going to have to form a scrappy mentality to start this season. Over the past 15 years, Pittsburgh has typically had a skill advantage on paper over most of their opponents. That won’t be the case now, but the team will have to opportunistically scrape to find a way to do as much as they can without the stars.