New addition Sullivan eager to hoist Stanley Cup with Penguins
July 15, 2011 4:00 AM
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
New Penguins forward Steve Sullivan scored 22 points with the Predators last season.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Forward Steve Sullivan wasn't reading from a script Thursday when he gushed about his new team, but he could have been.
"You look at the talent from top to bottom, the way they're built, it's got the longevity to be a winner for a long time," he said of the Penguins.
"I don't know how much time I have left, so this time around it was all about winning. It was about a chance to win the Stanley Cup. My No. 1 choice was here. Thankfully, we got the phone call."
That call was from Penguins general manager Ray Shero at the start of free agency July 1 and six days before Sullivan's 37th birthday. Sullivan had negotiated contracts with Shero when both were with Nashville, and this time he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
In the Sidney Crosby era, the Penguins have been recognized by players around the NHL as a top organization and a destination of choice -- for older players looking to join a contender, younger ones grateful for the opportunity and personnel developed in-house.
Many have signed on at a discount, helping the Penguins remain a viable candidate to repeat their Cup win of 2009 despite the league's salary cap.
There have been players who have left the team to chase more lucrative deals and for their long-term security. They include Ryan Malone, Sergei Gonchar, Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill, Max Talbot and Mike Rupp.
Sullivan joins a long list of players who have picked the Penguins for who they are more than for what they can pay. In the past few years Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham (twice), Pascal Dupuis, Mike Comrie. Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and others have made that choice and have voiced an outlook about the Penguins similar to that of Sullivan.
Next July, the Penguins are allowed to start negotiating new contracts with stars Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik, whose long-term deals expire after the 2012-13 season. All took somewhat or even much less than they could have gotten on the open market the last time around.
Sullivan -- who visited Pittsburgh to shake hands, see Consol Energy Center, take a sightseeing tour and look for a home -- can play wing on the left or right side. He said he's a blend of a playmaker and scorer and isn't picky about which center he skates with -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Staal.
"I'm fine with any one of those three," he said. "I'm just looking forward to it. I've never seen a cast of centermen like there is here. I don't think it matters where I play -- right wing, left wing, anywhere with any of those three players would be a thrill."
Sullivan, who has 266 goals and 682 points in 890 career NHL games, also could help what was, at times last season, an anemic power play. With the Predators, he often carried the puck up the ice and used his right-handed shot to work at many spots on the left side, including the point and often as the unit's quarterback.
With speed and tenacity as defining aspects of his game, Sullivan would seem to fit coach Dan Bylsma's system, which emphasizes a quick transition game and a lot of offensive zone time.
"You need to be able to skate and put a lot of pressure on pucks and make turnovers," Sullivan said. "When you have defensemen like we have here that can really do that, that are mobile and can skate and make the first pass out of your zone, that makes it very easy for the forwards to get some speed through the neutral zone and create some checking abilities in the other end."
Sullivan is 5 feet 8, 161 pounds but said the crackdown on obstruction in recent seasons has lifted any limitations he might have had because of his size.
Of more concern, perhaps, is his health.
Sullivan missed all of 2007-08 and 40 games the next season because of back problems. He was limited to 44 games last season because of a sports hernia, and a knee injury knocked him out of the playoffs.
He insists he will be 100 percent for the start of training camp in September.
"The back hasn't been an issue at all," he said. "After the two surgeries and the 11 months of rehab that it took to come back, from the moment I stepped on the ice when I came back it's been an absolute non-issue.
"It's just a matter of the rest of the body holding up, but as of right now it's a clean bill of health. Training is right on pace to where I should be with two months to go. I have no effects from the knee or the sports hernia at all."