Dunlap: Sullivan Already Best Coach In Pens History

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Mike Sullivan was named the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins 18 months ago.

He’s already the greatest coach in franchise history — a franchise that dates back to 1967 and has won five Stanley Cups.

To me, that’s fact and isn’t up for much debate. It’s crazy that the man who was brought in here to clean up Mike Johnston’s mess has risen to prominence so darn quickly. But, boy, has he ever.

When you stop and think about it, that really is something else.

As Sunday night drifted toward Monday morning and Sullivan grabbed the Stanley Cup — his second in a row — and lifted it high above his head in Nashville, he solidified his place as the best this franchise has ever known.

Again, mind-boggling when you think how far this has come in how short of a time.

Better as a Penguins coach than Bob Johnson.

Better as a Penguins coach than Scotty Bowman.

Better as a Penguins coach than Dan Bylsma.

Better as a Penguins coach than any other guy who has ever stood behind that bench and barked orders to players for this franchise.

“A great communicator,” general manager Jim Rutherford said of the man he brought in to replace Johnston on December 12, 2015. “He identifies the things [the team] needs to work on and deals with them immediately. He’s a great motivator and knows how to handle the top players. He’s just a great coach.”

A great coach who might end up losing a playoff series at some point, but to this juncture in his head coaching career doesn’t know what it is like to walk through that handshake line on the losing side of things.

Sullivan is 32-17 in playoff games while Bylsma won .551 percent of his playoff games as Penguins coach — he had a 43-35 record. Bowman went 23-10 and Bob Johnson, who might have gone on to become the greatest coach in Pens history had it not been for his untimely death after winning the Stanley Cup, went 16-8 as coach of the franchise in postseason games.

To me, only the men who have won titles — Sullivan, Bylsma, Johnson and Bowman — can even be considered anywhere near the greatest in franchise history and by virtue of what he did by capturing back-to-back Cups, Sullivan separates himself.

He is just the second coach in NHL history to win Stanley Cups with a team in his first two seasons coaching that team, joining Toe Blake who did it with Montreal in 1956 and ’57.

Does it help that Sullivan is in command of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and has had Matt Murray play spectacularly over the past few postseasons? Certainly.

That said, he’s still had to lasso this group in a way his immediate predecessor couldn’t find a way to and, while also coaching a ton of talent, Bylsma seemed to lose his magic.

Conversely, every decision Sullivan has made has seemed to come up aces. For that, in this short time, he’s already the best this franchise has known.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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