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Sullivan on three-peat: Why not?

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan isn't shy about his ambitions for the upcoming 2017-18 season, which begins this Friday with the start of training camp.

Actually, he made that clear at the team's back-to-back Stanley Cup championship parade in June. 

"I said a little something last year (in 2016) about seeing if we could do this again," Sullivan told the parade crowd at the celebration. "I wonder if we could three-peat."

While Sullivan was still wondering about repeating a season ago, many haters noted the obstacles in their path. No NHL team had repeated as champions in nearly two decades (Detroit, 1997-98). No NHL team had repeated in the salary cap era of parity.

"There were a lot of people last year going into training camp that were telling us that we couldn't repeat," Sullivan recalled. "History was against us. Statistics were against us. But these guys found ways to compete, bring their best effort every day and we ended up repeating with back-to-back championships."

Pittsburgh now has a chance to become the first to win three Stanley Cups in a row since the New York Islanders' run of consecutive championships from 1980-83. It's an even taller task and bigger challenge than repeating. So of course, the odds are against the Pens. Again.

So entering the current campaign, Sullivan will deliver a similar message to his team on trying to win the Stanley Cup for the third season in a row:

"Why not?"

"People are telling us that we can't," Sullivan continued. "The way I look at it is we have core players that are in the prime of their career. We've got a surrounding cast of players that are really competitive guys. We believe in this group that we have. They've shown an ability to play their best when the stakes are high, and they know how to win."

As with every championship team's attempts to win consecutive championships, the Pens experienced some turnover in the off-season, both on the ice and behind the bench.

The Pens will need to fill the holes left by Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley and Marc-Andre Fleury. Plus, assistant coach Rick Tocchet and goaltending coach Mike Bales have also moved on from the organization.

Pittsburgh added Matt Hunwick, Ryan Reaves and Antti Niemi. They've also promoted assistant coach Mark Recchi and goaltending coach Mike Buckley to the coaching staff.

"We are really comfortable with the group that we have," Sullivan said. "We think it's going to be a seamless transition. (Recchi is) going to work with the power play with Sergei (Gonchar), he's going to work with our forwards. He's going to bring a lot of insight into the game. He was a cerebral player himself. He sees the game on a certain level that this coaching staff has so much respect for."

Though the Pens may be thin at the center position, which has historically been a strength for the franchise, Sullivan has full trust in general manager Jim Rutherford. And why wouldn't he? Rutherford has been the architect of the past two championship clubs.

"I think Jim has a real good handle on our team, where it's at and what our needs are," Sullivan said. "What I've always really admired about Jim is that he understands when a move needs to be made, he's proactive and pursues it. But he also has an element of patience to him.

"We're not going to go out and get a guy for the sake of getting a guy. If we're going to add a player to our team it has to be the right fit, it has to be the right type of player that we think is going to be complimentary to the group that we have."

In the meantime, the Pens will work with the current group and begin the quest for a three-peat.

"We don't have a perfect team by any stretch, but we have a real good hockey team, a competitive team and we believe in the group that we have," Sullivan said. "We're going to work with the people that we have and do our best."

The team's best over the past two seasons has been good enough to sit atop of the NHL's throne. It's sometimes hard to believe that Sullivan has won has led the club to two Stanley Cup trophies in just one-year-and-a-half years as head coach.

"Sometimes I just pinch myself and say did we really do this?" he said with a smile. "Did we accomplish this?"

Perhaps Sullivan will be pinching himself again next summer and wondering aloud to a parade crowd about a four-peat. It may be a leap to think of that right now.

But then again, why not? 

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