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Penguins Coaches Aiming for a New Level

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Ever heard that saying “The future’s so bright, I need shades?”

Well, Penguins fans may want to get their sunglasses ready following the news that the organization has signed Pittsburgh assistant coaches Tony Granato, Todd Reirden, Gilles Meloche and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes and his assistant, Alain Nasreddine, all to multi-year contracts.

“Now we can grow as a group and learn from the good and bad from each year,” Hynes said. “We can continue to progress as a staff, and ultimately with both Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, take it to a different level.”

Tony Granato speaking with captain Sidney Crosby. (Getty Images)
Granato agreed, saying “I think the stability helps all the way around. Everybody knows what’s expected of each other and everybody knows what they bring to the table. I think that consistency within an organization is helpful and hopefully that’ll help the product on the ice continue to be an elite team for many years to come.”

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As Granato mentioned, each coach does bring something different to the table. Reirden works closely with the team’s defensemen, Granato works closely with the forwards while overseeing the NHL’s No. 1-ranked penalty kill and Meloche has been instrumental in the development of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

All of that together has helped the Penguins cement their status as one of the deepest, most well-rounded teams in the league.

With players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the roster – both former league scoring champions – the Penguins were long viewed as a team whose strength lay in their offensive abilities.

But under the tutelage of Reirden, the Penguins stepped up their play on the back end, finishing the regular season ranked sixth in goals-against average (after finishing in 20th place the year before) while keeping the team’s total goals against under 200 – 196, to be exact, a 39-goal improvement from the year before.

Todd Reirden on the bench (Getty Images)
But the best part of all that? The Penguins blueliners didn’t have to sacrifice their ability to produce offense, finishing second in the NHL in points by defensemen.

“We put a real emphasis on improving our defense this past year, with the additions of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek and then how we wanted to play a little bit differently than they have on other teams,” Reirden said.

“It took a little while to implement that. But certainly, looking at how things finished up from our defense – finishing sixth in goals-against average and second in points in the whole league from defensemen – we continued to have the offensive production that we wanted to. But that took a lot of work and buy-in from some of our players.”

That willingness by the team’s defensemen to want to improve was the biggest (pleasant) surprise to Reirden in making the transition from the AHL to the NHL level.

RELATED: Penguins Give Contract Extensions to Assistant Coaches, WBS Coaches >>

“The group that we had here was open to learning and trying new things,” Reirden said. “Certainly I think, for the most part, the large part of the success we had this year was based on that group of 6-7 guys we had back there.”

Reirden emphasized that that mindset also translated to the forwards, goaltenders and the rest of the coaching staff.

Gilles Meloche (center) with Marc-Andre Fleury and Dan Bylsma (Getty Images)
“Certainly I was fortunate to work with a great coach like Tony Granato and learn a lot from Gilles and his experiences,” Reirden said. “Sometimes the goaltender has got to be on the same page, and Gilles was great to work with as well.”

Under Granato, who just finished his second season as a Pittsburgh assistant coach, the Penguins finished the regular season with the NHL’s No. 1-ranked penalty killing unit for the first time in franchise history.

The Penguins have now finished the last two seasons with a penalty kill ranked in the top 10. To put it into perspective, the Penguins have finished with a penalty kill ranked in the top-10 just five times since the 1975-76 season.

“I think, personnel-wise, we had an outstanding group of players that were very committed and had a lot of pride in being an elite penalty killing team,” Granato said. “I think that’s going to be a focus and one of our strengths moving forward.”

The coaches in Pittsburgh stay in constant contact throughout the season with Hynes, who just finished his first full season as a professional head coach.

He was named the American Hockey League's Outstanding Coach while guiding WBS to a 58-21-0-1 record, leading the franchise to its first-ever Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as regular season champions.

John Hynes on the bench with WBS (Anthony Fabrikant/AFC Media Photography)
Hynes is looking forward to helping WBS build on last season's success. But even more importantly, Hynes is excited about the prospect of being able to oversee the development of his players over a more long-term scenario and continue the organization's philosophy of consistency between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh.  

"It feels really good because it’s a situation where the development process of the players is that you’re now looking over a two-year process of where younger guys need to go," he said.

All of the coaches in both Pittsburgh and WBS are looking forward to continuing to build on the foundations they have built along with Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, who signed a three-year contract extension in March.

“I think a lot of credit should go to Dan on what he's been able to implement as far as the culture that he's created in our dressing room," Granato said. "I think we had a very successful year despite some of the injuries and some of the things we had to deal with last year, and I think that goes back to the foundation that’s put in place.

“We’ve got a lot to be proud of in terms of what we were able to accomplish last season, but again, it’s all about getting better. We have to continue to find ways to get better and grow, and I think we’re in good shape to continue doing that.”
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