The Penguins are going to get bigger. GM Ron Hextall likes big. President of hockey operations Brian Burke likes big. The NHL has been trending big for several years.

Where will that leave coach Mike Sullivan?

Sullivan likes speed, as did former GM Jim Rutherford. Sullivan made his preference clear in 2017, when Rutherford got battleship winger Ryan Reaves from St. Louis at a hefty price: Reaves came to Pittsburgh with a second-round pick. The Blues got a first-round pick and former first-round pick Oskar Sundqvist, who has turned into a serviceable bottom-six forward (which means the Penguins could desperately use him now).

Sullivan didn’t play Reaves, whose ice time per game averaged 6 minutes, 45 seconds during his 58-game stay with the Penguins. He often played much less.

Reaves went to Vegas at the 2018 trade deadline in a salary cap dump so the Penguins could get center Derrick Brassard from Ottawa. Those were not Rutherford’s finest moves.

Washington bruiser Tom Wilson ran roughshod over the Penguins in the second-round playoff matchup between the teams in 2018, wreaking havoc till he was suspended for three games after concussing and breaking the jaw of Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3.

The Capitals won that series. Not many situations that season called specifically for Reaves, but that series did.

Reaves’ acquisition and stint with the Penguins was a debacle. Either Rutherford made a mistake getting him or Sullivan erred by not playing him. Either way, it was a gratuitous lack of communication between GM and coach.

Reaves has been a valuable component in Vegas, averaging nearly 10 minutes of ice per game since arriving. Reaves is decent. He is not a mere goon. He can play a regular shift.

Hextall and Burke would love to have Reaves on the current Penguins. That’s how they’re wired. Crosby would, too. He liked it when Reaves was his teammate.

But it wasn’t just Reaves (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) who got short shrift under Sullivan. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson (6-5, 217) and Jamie Oleksiak (6-7, 255) never got a foothold in Sullivan’s lineup and were short-timers in Pittsburgh.

What if Hextall and Burke make the Penguins bigger, and Sullivan doesn’t want to use those acquired, or won’t temper his style of speed and speed only?

Sullivan likely won’t have a choice.

Sullivan has won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh, but Hextall and Burke didn’t hire him. He’s not their guy.

The average tenure of a coach in the NHL is approximately three-and-a-half years. The median is about two-and-a-half years. This is Sullivan’s sixth season. He hasn’t won a playoff series since 2018. That’s not Sullivan’s fault. The Penguins are aging out, disintegrating organically.

But Hextall and Burke won’t feel obliged to keep Sullivan the way Rutherford would.

The Penguins were the NHL’s fastest team when they won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and ’17. But are they fast enough now?

In their two-game sweep of hapless Buffalo on Wednesday and Thursday, the Penguins were reminded they’re not big enough, or tough enough, or even very tough at all.

Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen nailed Sidney Crosby with a late, high hit early in Thursday’s game. On Wednesday, the Sabres’ Brandon Montour dogged Crosby the whole game. None of Crosby’s teammates came to his aid. Nobody demanded accountability.

The Penguins have never adequately protected Crosby despite his (hopefully expired) susceptibility to concussions. Heck, Mario Lemieux rarely received proper help in that regard.

But now Crosby is 33. He’s more important to the Penguins than ever, especially now that injuries have made his production even more crucial.

Burke, in particular, had to be furious with Crosby’s treatment at the hands of the Sabres. Letting such abuse stand is not Burke’s style.

Sullivan’s contract has three seasons to run after the current campaign. If he won’t go big, Sullivan will go home long before that deal expires. Adapt or perish.

Mark Madden Columns | Penguins/NHL | Sports