is a 15-year NHL veteran, his name may be unfamiliar to Penguins fans as he’s played in the Western Conference since 1999.
But Sullivan – who has spent the last six seasons in Nashville – is certainly a very familiar face to Ray Shero, as the Penguins general manager worked with Sullivan from 2003-06 when he was still an assistant general manager with the Predators.
So working out the deal that the veteran forward and the Penguins agreed to on Friday – a one-year, $1.5 million contract – was familiar territory for both Sullivan and Shero.
“Ray and I had to negotiate a couple deals, one before the lockout and one right after,” Sullivan, 36, said. “We’ve had a lot of meetings and they’ve all been very positive. So I’m hoping that our past relationship definitely came into play in this.”
And according to Shero, it did.
“I know Steve well from having him in Nashville,” he said. “He’s still a pretty dynamic player. Looking at what we’re trying to do – which is improve our power play – he’s a guy that can potentially help us there.”
The 5-foot-9, 161-pound winger has amassed 682 points (266G-416A) in 890 career contests with New Jersey, Toronto, Chicago and Nashville. He’s also added 17 points (7G-10A) in 44 postseason contests.
Sullivan calls his speed his best asset, saying “I try to play a fast game. … I get in there and try to forecheck pucks and try to make plays.”
He spoke with head coach Dan Bylsma about the kind of role Bylsma envisioned him in before agreeing on a contract. Like Shero, Bylsma envisions Sullivan as a player who could contribute to the power play.
“He thought I could be a top nine forward and that I could see some time on the power play,” Sullivan said. “He liked the way that I was able to carry the puck up the ice. I’m a right-handed shot that’s very versatile; I can play a lot of different areas on the power play. … You can play me down low, you can play me up on the point. He could move me wherever he thought I’d fit best.”
Sullivan has a reputation of longevity with NHL clubs, as he switched teams just once in the past 12 years prior to Friday. But he’s excited about getting a fresh start in the Steel City.
“I’ve been very fortunate not to have moved very often,” he said. “But I’m excited. I think that you’re going to a team that has a legitimate chance at contending for the Stanley Cup. Just that alone is so worth it. I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
In addition to leading by example on the ice, Sullivan will also bring a unique perspective to the Penguins locker room.
Sullivan – who served as an alternate captain with Nashville – missed the entire 2007-08 season due to a severe back injury before returning to action on Jan. 10, 2009 after missing 142-straight regular season games and 11 playoff contests.
He finished that season by scoring 32 points (11G-21A) in 41 games and winning the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy for his perserverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey – and says he’s never been more grateful to be able to play the game.
“It was a long journey coming back, but I think it’s been so rewarding,” he said. “I think that I look at the game in a whole different way now. Not that you take it for granted, but I just think that I cherish every time I get on the ice and I’m able to play another game.
Shero dismissed the idea that injuries are a concern with Sullivan entering next season, saying “Right now he’s healthy and ready to go and could play tomorrow if he had to.”
Sullivan and his wife Kristen will begin figuring out the relocation process to Pittsburgh sometime in the next 2-3 weeks. They and their four children – sons Aidyn (12), Garner (9), Drake (6) and daughter Karlisle (7) – hope to be settled in the area by around mid-August.
“Hopefully we’ll have a place settled up by then and try to make the move to Pittsburgh,” Sullivan said. “Start skating with the guys and try to get comfortable with the system.”