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Penguins not bringing back three assistant coaches after early playoff exit

PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins' qualifying-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens cost assistant coaches Sergei Gonchar, Jacques Martin and Mark Recchi their jobs.

The team announced on Wednesday that it would not renew the contracts of all three assistants. The move came less than a week after the fifth-seeded Penguins fell to the 12th-seeded Canadiens in four mostly lifeless games. The contracts for the coaches originally expired at the end of June but were temporarily extended for the playoffs.

General manager Jim Rutherford promised significant changes after Pittsburgh dropped its opening-round postseason series for the second straight year. While head coach Mike Sullivan -- who guided the team to consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 -- will stick around, he will have to move forward with a new staff in place.

"We are in the process of conducting a review of our organization because we have underperformed in the playoffs the last few years," Rutherford said. "We just thought we needed to change the dynamic of our coaching staff. We have very high standards here in Pittsburgh, and we want to continue competing for Stanley Cups. The message to our fans is that 'We are not rebuilding, we're re-tooling.'"

Martin joined the Penguins in 2013 as an assistant under Dan Bylsma following head coaching stints in St. Louis, Ottawa, Montreal and Florida. Martin moved to an advisory position in June 2014 but returned to the bench shortly after Sullivan was hired in December 2015.

Gonchar, who played 20 years in the NHL as a defenseman -- a run that included winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009 -- became a full-time assistant for Pittsburgh shortly after the franchise won its fifth Stanley Cup in 2017.

Recchi, a three-time Cup winner during his 22-year career, joined Pittsburgh's organization in 2014. He was promoted to assistant coach when Rick Tocchet left in 2017 and was in charge of a power play that struggled during the season despite having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"These guys are good coaches, and they're my friends," Sullivan said. "We've been through a lot together as a group. But when teams with high expectations such as ours don't have success, then change is inevitable.

"We all have to take responsibility for it," Sullivan said later. "It starts with me."

Sullivan, who is 214-115-40 in four-plus seasons with the Penguins, believes he still has the ear of the core that includes Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. He pointed to Pittsburgh's solid regular season -- one in which they finished fifth in the Eastern Conference despite injuries that sidelined Crosby, Malkin and All-Star forward Jake Guentzel, among others -- as proof his system predicated on speed and "playing the right way" still resonates in the dressing room.

Still, it didn't translate to the playoffs. The Penguins were badly outplayed after taking a two-goal lead in Game 3. The Canadiens scored the final five goals of the series to send Pittsburgh into an extended break with plenty to ponder.

A change likely awaits in goal, where Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are both restricted free agents. Malkin, Crosby and Letang figure to remain. And there isn't a ton of money to spend in free agency. The answers -- whatever they end up being -- will likely need to come from within.

"It's disappointing for all of us, the players included," Sullivan said. "I know we've got a committed group from a work ethic standpoint. But we've got to translate that into results. And we fell short this year."