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Sullivan is exactly where he wanted to be

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

There was never a doubt in Mike Sullivan's mind about his desired future. 

"I just knew that I wanted to be the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins," he said. 

On Friday, that desire came to fruition as the club signed Sullivan, who was entering the final year of his contract next season, to a four-year contract extension that ends at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. 

"I'm so appreciative to Ron Burkle, Mario Lemieux and our ownership group, (CEO/President) David Morehouse and (general manager) Jim Rutherford for showing the confidence in me to try and continue to lead this team," Sullivan said. 

Now that Sullivan, 51, is locked in for the next five years, a rarity in today's NHL in which coaches have a high rate of turnover, it creates a sense of stability for him personally and for the team. 

"Any time that someone like myself has an opportunity to establish a little bit of stability with my job it is a great help from my standpoint," he said. "And I'm grateful of the opportunity that I've been given with this Pittsburgh Penguins organization. It really is a unique organization. They do it right. And it starts with the leadership of our ownership and it goes down from there."

Sullivan's extension not only avoids the unenviable position of being a lame-duck coach, but now establishes that he is completely in charge well into the future. That will only strengthen his message and position inside the locker room. 

And it will also help in his personal relationships with players, which Sullivan, whose 174 wins with Pittsburgh ranks third in franchise history, believes is the bedrock of coaching and the key to success. 

"I believe that it takes time to build relationships with people. When you do build relationships then you can establish trust with the players," Sullivan said. "It can only help the coaching staff and the players to meet some of the challenges that this league inevitably presents. 

"It's certainly my job to inspire this group and bring out the best in them."

Sullivan certainly did that as he led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and '17 - winning the former after being promoted to NHL bench halfway through the year. But don't expect Sullivan to be complacent with his new contract and past achievements. 

"I'll continue to try to evolve myself as a coach," he said, "and I'll challenge my staff as well to evolve as a staff in more ways than one, in looking at the league and best practices, in looking at how we play and if we need to change in order to maximize this group of players that we have, continuing to build relationships with our players that is so critically important to working together to accomplish a common goal."

That common goal is another Stanley Cup championship for the city of Pittsburgh, the only place Sullivan wanted to be. 

"I have so much respect for the group of people that I get to go to work with every day," he said. "We have a great group of players. Jim Rutherford is a great general manager to work for. It really is a privilege to coach this team, and to coach in this organization. For myself to be able to sign an extension it helps me as far as my own personal aspirations to be part of this Pittsburgh Penguins organization."

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