Penguins’ Sidney Crosby contract, Mike Sullivan rumors, Tristan Jarry trade: What I’m hearing

Mike Sullivan remains firmly entrenched with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That wasn’t a guarantee only a month ago, when Sullivan was reportedly linked to the New Jersey Devils head-coach opening.

However, Penguins GM Kyle Dubas told The Athletic, the Devils neither requested nor were granted permission to speak with Sullivan, and New Jersey GM Tom Fitzgerald ended his lengthy search by hiring Sheldon Keefe, Dubas’ coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, was it much ado about nothing regarding Sullivan and the Devils?

Not exactly.

If he was available, the Devils had Sullivan atop their list of preferred coaches, two Devils sources said.

Sullivan and Dubas had originally disagreed on making changes to the Penguins coaching staff, but that issue never prompted Sullivan to come close to asking out of his three remaining contractual years in Pittsburgh, Penguins sources said. The Penguins parted ways with longtime associate coach Todd Reirden, the team’s power-play boss, in early May.

The strong working relationship that Sullivan and Dubas developed since last offseason made potentially leaving the Penguins a non-starter for Sullivan, team sources said. Sullivan’s loyalty to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — the latter two of whom Sullivan lobbied previous management and team owners Fenway Sports Group to re-sign two years ago — made his departure a long shot, the sources said.

At some point during end-of-season meetings with Dubas, Sullivan directly inquired about his job security. Sullivan exited that conversation with Dubas reassured he was Dubas’ long-term choice to coach the Penguins, which made Sullivan’s decision not to pursue the Devils opening easy, two of the Penguins sources said.

Sullivan signed a three-year extension in August 2022 and is close with FSG’s top brass, but Dubas was granted full autonomy over all hockey personnel when FSG hired him in June 2023.

Dubas does not hold the Penguins’ disappointing season against Sullivan. Team sources said Dubas has told people within the organization he was pleased with the in-season growth of players such as Drew O’Connor and Pierre-Olivier Joseph; the late-season opportunities awarded to the likes of Valtteri Puustinen and Jack St. Ivany; and internal communication. Dubas also liked Sullivan’s in-game and lineup adjustments, the sources said.

Sullivan is still in strong standing with the Penguins, a team source said. Fans can debate whether that’s a good thing as the Penguins haven’t won a playoff series since 2018 and missed the past two postseasons. But those calling for a coaching change should know that all signs point toward that relationship continuing at least beyond the upcoming season.

Sidney Crosby’s contract

Neither Dubas nor Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, have turned up the heat when it comes to the contract that FSG considers its top priority: Crosby’s next deal.

Don’t read anything into that lack of movement. Talks are expected to intensify soon, perhaps during this week’s NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, N.Y., a team and league source said.



Why Sidney Crosby’s next Penguins contract could look different

Dubas and Brisson are proceeding as though Crosby’s next contract will get finalized this summer, the sources said. Whether that happens around July 1 — the start of the next league year, when extension-eligible players can re-sign with teams — or afterward likely would have more to do with how many roster changes Dubas has planned over the next few weeks.

With only 14 active roster players signed for next season, the Penguins project to have $12.9 million in available salary-cap space. That isn’t much to retain or add up to seven players, and Dubas is looking to bolster that total with possible trades, a team and multiple league sources said.

Crosby is not necessarily seeking his final NHL contract. However, he also hasn’t set a firm date for when he plans to retire, so a shorter-term deal than he’s signed in the past is appealing, a source said.

As previously reported, Crosby may command a higher cap hit than the $8.7 million from each of his past 16 seasons. But his new contract will not go into effect until 2025-26, and the Penguins project to have considerably more cap space to work with for that season and beyond — in part because the cap is expected to exceed $90 million by then, and also due to Malkin’s anticipated retirement after his current contract expires.

Malkin is set to enter the penultimate season of his contract.

Trade talks

Several teams believe Dubas is trying to trade forward Reilly Smith, who did not fit as hoped upon his acquisition at the 2023 NHL Draft, league sources said. Dubas would prefer to make a hockey trade for Smith and is not keen to retain salary, a Penguins source said.

Goaltender Tristan Jarry is not necessarily being shopped by Dubas, but there is a sense among other teams that Jarry is available. While that doesn’t mean Dubas or Sullivan has abandoned the idea that Jarry can become a No. 1 goalie, Jarry’s inability to wrestle the crease from Alex Nedeljkovic late this past season did not win him many points with top brass, two team sources said.

The Penguins will keep Jarry if they cannot find a deal that either directly or, by clearing cap space, indirectly addresses a need: a top-six forward (ideally a winger for Crosby) or a top-four defenseman.

Ryan Graves was expected to be a top-four defenseman, but his first season with the Penguins was perceived internally as a bust. Dubas does not believe there is a market for Graves without the Penguins eating significant salary, so the hope is Graves rebounds in his second season — with fewer expectations as a bottom-pairing option, team sources said.

Letang’s injury status

Though it wasn’t the best outcome, Letang’s successful finger surgery on his left hand has team personnel confident he’ll be closer to the player he was in the first half last season.

The injury, which lingered for the final months, negatively impacted Letang’s grip on his stick. Letang never used it as an excuse, but the Penguins feel some of his perceived sloppiness with the puck was because he couldn’t control it due to the injury, team sources said.

Surgery is always a last resort for players. Given Letang’s medical condition — he can’t take certain medications due to his stroke history — all other options were considered.

Letang is expected to be a full participant in training camp, and his offseason workout regimen is not anticipated to be significantly affected by his recovery.

Broadcast changes

Officials from SportsNet Pittsburgh, a regional sports channel launched by FSG late last summer, spent the past few weeks evaluating on-air talent for Penguins broadcasts. This was a planned evaluation period, as last season featured multiple color commentators for TV play-by-play broadcaster Josh Getzoff.

Phil Bourque, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Penguins as a player in the 1990s and has spent most of the previous two decades doing color on radio broadcasts, is the team’s preferred choice to become Getzoff’s permanent TV partner, team sources said. Bourque worked select games with Getzoff on TV last season, and their chemistry from years as a radio team was apparent.

FSG owns SportsNet Pittsburgh and launched a direct-to-consumer app that allows fans without local cable packages to pay monthly to stream Penguins broadcasts next season — even more reason for FSG to solidify the SportsNet Pittsburgh broadcast team.

To that end, bringing Bourque over from the radio side is viewed as smart business. Not only does Bourque have a connection to Penguins fans that exceeds 30 years, he also makes many appearances for sponsors and charities at no cost, which wasn’t well-known to FSG brass before the past couple of years.

One potential wrinkle is the Penguins’ radio broadcasts, which have generated the highest American ratings for any NHL team this decade. FSG owns SportsNet Pittsburgh, but the Penguins partner with 105.9-FM (WXDX) for their radio programming. The Penguins’ radio partner is not keen to lose Bourque, especially with play-by-play broadcaster Steve Mears’ status for next season unknown.

Mears preceded Getzoff as the Penguins’ TV voice before FSG made a change last summer upon the transition to SportsNet Pittsburgh. Mears accepted an offer to call games on the radio because it was too late for him to line up TV work elsewhere, but it’s known internally he wants to work in that medium.

Potentially losing both Mears and Bourque from radio isn’t ideal for the Penguins or their radio partner, but getting the TV broadcast team is paramount, team sources said. If that means an entirely new radio broadcast team — or even a rotation involving multiple talents — there seems to be a consensus that Getzoff-Bourque is the best choice for the business of SportsNet Pittsburgh.

(Photo of Mike Sullivan: Kirk Irwin / Getty Images)

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