Sullivan’s extension; Malkin’s milestone and deadline needs

Dave Lozo’s weekly Penguins roundup looks at the coach’s extension (and future), the most underrated player in the league and what the Pens may need at the deadline.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins
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What did you get for Christmas? A gift card? Perhaps a hilarious shirt that commemorates a meme from 2016? Or maybe you’re one of those rich people who gets a luxury car delivered to them with a bow on it. If you’re the last person, I hate you and want to be you.

What did Penguins coach Mike Sullivan get? A three-year contract extension. The financial terms were not disclosed, but he can probably buy quite a few Harambe shirts.

It’s been a little more than a year on the job for Sullivan, who took over a fledgling team run by the jettisoned Mike Johnston and guided the Penguins to their second Stanley Cup in the Sidney Crosby era. With the team near the top of the standings as this season reaches its halfway mark, extending Sullivan was a no-brainer for GM Jim Rutherford.

Through 90 games, Sullivan is 56-24-10 in the regular season with the Penguins. How good is that? His .678 points percentage is the best mark in franchise history and would be seventh all-time among all coaches if not for a so-so two years in Boston a decade ago. As it stands, Sullivan has the 11th-best points percentage among active coaches, which is still pretty good.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

How does it compare to the first 90 games for Dan Bylsma, whose coaching career in Pittsburgh started in similar fashion? He started 57-25-8 for an identical .678 points percentage.

What does this mean? Is it just a coincidence? Absolutely not.

Sullivan has four more seasons in which he will be second-guessed more and more, then blamed for his general manager’s failings when his teams aren’t deep enough, then fired. Sullivan will coach the Sabres in 2022. The numbers have decided it.

Carl Hagelin … ‘Trader?’

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Carl Hagelin, a former New York Ranger, sure has embraced the Pittsburgh lifestyle since arriving in January. He loves it so much that he stayed in town for Christmas and attended the Steelers’ comeback win against the Ravens on Sunday. Here he is at Heinz Field wearing a Ben Roethlisberger prison stripes uniform.

Hmmm. He’s been there less than a year and suddenly he’s a card-carrying Steelers fan? How can that be? Did he not develop any allegiances to the Giants or Jets while with the Rangers?

There it is! Traitor! He went to a Jets game four years ago and now he’s posing for pics at Steelers games. What could have possibly happened at that Jets game to cause him to turn away from that team at the first chance to root for someone else?

Oh. The Jets lost 34-0 to the 49ers that day.

Never mind! Enjoy your Steelers, Carl!

Player of the Week

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Evgeni Malkin is probably destined to go down as Mark Messier to Sidney Crosby’s Wayne Gretkzy (like that’s a bad thing), but he offered a reminder Tuesday of his greatness while playing in Crosby’s shadow.

Malkin registered the 800th and 801st points of his career with a goal and an assist in the Penguins’ 5-2 victory against the Devils. He reached the mark in 680 career games, which means if the 30-year-old maintains that pace through 1,100 career games, he’ll have about 1,300 career points.

Of course, he won’t maintain that pace as he ages and declines, but he has a shot to finish in the top-30 or maybe even top-20 all-time in scoring.

Malkin may go down as the most underappreciated star of his generation.

Player of the Weak

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You’re killing me, Matt Murray. About eight hours after writing that he should be considered the front-runner for the Calder Trophy, he allowed six goals on 23 shots to the Blue Jackets in a 7-1 loss. Murray hasn’t seen the net since, as the improving Marc-Andre Fleury earned the past two wins.

So if anyone out there needs me to write an impassioned plea for a player on a team you don’t like to win an award, transfer some money to my PayPal account and I’ll take care of the rest.

One Question

I say this as someone who knows he is writing for a Pittsburgh-centric audience, so I swear this isn’t pandering, but the Penguins don’t really need anything at the deadline. Sullivan can still drop Phil Kessel onto the third freaking line, so it’s not as though they need forwards. Justin Schultz is angling for the Norris Trophy so there aren’t any issues (when healthy) there.

The Penguins should be in the market for either a seventh defenseman or 13th forward. If there are injuries, like if Trevor Daley or Patric Hornqvist suffer season-ending injuries in February, then yeah, make a move. But what’s on the market probably won’t be better than what you’d want to take out of the lineup anyway.

Sure, you’d want an upgrade on Chris Kunitz, and you want Olli Maata to figure it out so you don’t need to go the rental route. But the Penguins surely don’t want to mess with the group that won a Cup last year and is one of the best teams so far this season.

Dave Lozo is a freelance hockey writer who has worked for, Bleacher Report and The Score. He writes nationally for Vice Sports, Uproxx, The Comeback and is one half of the Nerdist podcast Puck Soup.