A native of Marshfield, Massachusetts, Sullivan transformed the Penguins' identity in his first season behind the bench, instilling the motto 'Just Play' into his players. The result was his club posting the league's second-best record and becoming its highest-scoring outfit from the day of his hiring until the end of the season.
That turnaround not only catapulted Pittsburgh to the NHL's fourth-best overall record last year, but it served as the springboard to a dominant playoff performance after the Penguins won eight of their last nine, and 14 of their final 16 games entering the postseason.
By going on to win the Stanley Cup, Sullivan became just the sixth American-born head coach in NHL history to guide his club to a championship, and only the fourth coach to win after taking over at midseason.
Sullivan's Penguins went 16-8 during their magical ride through the playoff field, equaling the franchise record for home playoff wins with nine, while playing with a dramatic flair that included a team-record four overtime victories.
This season, Sullivan has the Penguins sitting at 22-8-5, which has them in the thick of the race for the Metropolitan Division title, a feat made even more impressive when considering that five of the NHL's top-eight teams right now reside within the Metro Division.
Overall, Sullivan is 55-24-10 behind the Penguins' bench. Only the Washington Capitals have accumulated more points (124 to 120) among NHL teams during that span.
Two early trademarks of Sullivan's teams are the ability to come back from multi-goal deficits, and they have been nearly impossible to beat in consecutive regulation games.
Incredibly, the Penguins have recorded 14 of their 55 wins (25%) under Sullivan when trailing by two or more goals at any point within that contest. This season, the Penguins own the NHL's best winning percentage when trailing after both the first and second periods.
Since dropping the first four games of Sullivan's tenure in regulation, the Penguins have a streak of 85 consecutive games played without back-to-back regulation losses. That number swells to 109 if you factor in the playoffs.
One of the keys to Sullivan's success has been giving his superstars the offensive freedom to display their talents.
Sidney Crosby leads all NHL players in both goals (54) and points (104) in 81 games played since Sullivan's arrival.
Crosby (1st, 1.28), Evgeni Malkin (3rd, 1.11) and Kris Letang (6th, 1.01) all rank among the NHL points per game leaders during that same time span.
Rutherford promoted Sullivan to head coach in Pittsburgh last year following an 18-5 start to Sullivan's first year behind the bench of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh's top farm club.
As all that says, obviously almost everything Sullivan's touched has turned to gold. His voice and perspective was instrumental in winning the Stanley Cup, and he's done a good job trying to keep the team focused through the slog of an 82 game regular season this year.
Coaches though, are hired and signed but often to be fired. This news just means the obvious- the Pens reward Sullivan and will keep him around for the foreseeable future. However, they did fire Dan Bylsma after he had one of the best winning percentages (regular season) in coaching history. If/when Sullivan loses his effectiveness he will have the same fate in store. That's not really in the Christmas spirit of things, but just a reality of being an NHL coach.
That said, to end happy news on a happier note, Sullivan seems just as prepared, focused and having as much attention of the team as when he took over and things worked so well in all of the calendar 2016. The Pens extending him is well-deserved and a positive thing and one less thing the coach and team management will have to worry about as the calendar turns to 2017 and everyone gears up for another chance to compete for the Cup again.