Everyone on Twitter has been recently trying to argue as to why (not) Kris Letang should win the Norris Trophy. I have also seen many tweets and polls discussing the argument of Crosby vs. Kane in the Hart Trophy race. However, I think there is someone we are all forgetting about that’s been behind the recent surges of Crosby and Letang…
His name is Mike Sullivan.
Mike Sullivan should absolutely be a candidate to win the Jack Adams, which is given to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” Actually, I retract my previous statement. He should not be considered to win the Jack Adam’s Award. He should win the Jack Adams Award.
Since Sullivan took over, the Penguins have posted 31-15-5 record, which includes their recent 12-1 stretch in their past 13 games. Take away the 0-4 skid the Penguins hit when Sullivan initially took over, and the Penguins have a 31-11-5 record under Sullivan.
However, the Penguins’ record is not, by any means, the only stat one should look at when considering a coach for such a high-honor award.
Jason Mackey of DKPittsburghSports wrote a fantastic article about Sullivan taking over behind the bench for the Penguins. If you are a subscriber to DKPittsburghSports, you can read his article here:
If not, I highly recommend you subscribe. Either way, I want to mention some of the points that he touches on in this piece that I found interesting and notable.
First of all, Sullivan had a chance to leave Wilkes-Barre early in the season and take over as the assistant coach of the struggling Blue Jackets under John Tortorella, who he has worked with in the past. Sullivan respectfully declined, saying that he believed he could be a successful head coach and wanted to wait for the opportunity. Later, as we all know, he would take over behind the Penguins bench for the Penguins’ Mike Johnston.
Part of the Penguins’ failure to produce a win in Sullivan’s first 4 games behind the bench was that the bench was dead. Sullivan said “I didn’t think we had any juice[.] I thought there was a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks.” Sullivan knew there needed to be a change, and it needed to happen fast. He is all about passion, and always will be:
“I’m a strong believer that the essence of this game is in the passion that players bring to the game,” Sullivan said. “I like a bench that brings emotion because that’s an indication that they’re all in. When we have 20 players who don’t show any sort of emotion or reaction to what’s going on out there, that’s concerning for me.”
Clearly, he has brought this idea of emotion and passion not only to the players, but the fans as well.
I’ll be honest, my friends and I always used to talk about how the atmosphere in Consol Energy Center was dull, and how it just never felt the same as it did in Mellon, especially during the 08-09 season when the Penguins won the Cup.
Sullivan is making me eat my own words.
Even watching the games on TV, I can just feel the energy from the crowd. In addition, being at the games, wow. That’s all I can say is wow. Although I was not at the 6-2 demolition of the Flyers yesterday, I can tell you that I heard that there were plenty of “Go home Flyers!” chants, which have been seldom chanted since the Penguins moved to Consol.
But hey, the Penguins couldn’t beat the Flyers in Consol, but it sure looks like they can now. The Penguins are 3-0 against the Flyers this season, 2-0 at home, after not beating them at all in the previous 2 seasons.
Consol Energy Center is “turning its power on” as of recently, and I cannot wait to see what it will be like this year in the playoffs.
So, Mike Sullivan has brought energy, passion, and a pretty darn solid record to go with it. Is that all? Of course not.
The Penguins in recent years have not only struggled against the Flyers, but against the Metropolitan Division in general.
Last year, the Penguins played NYR, WSH, CBJ, PHI, and CAR 4 times. They only beat NYR, WASH, and CBJ once in 4 tries, did not beat Philly at all, and only beat a lowly Carolina Hurricanes team twice. They played NYI and NJD 5 times each, while only beating the Islanders once and the Devils thrice. They would finish 9-17-4.
Meanwhile, the Penguins just recently put up 9 wins against the Metropolitan Division in the month of March. Under Sullivan, the Penguins this year are 17-6-1. They are 3-1 against NYR, NYI, and CAR, 3-0 against PHI, 1-2 against the Capitals (although the one of those games was the 4-1 loss in Sullivan’s first game behind the bench), 2-1 against NJD, and 2-0 against CBJ.
If not for the Penguins stellar play in the division, they would not be where they are in the standings…
Oh yeah, the standings. Almost forgot to mention that…
When Sullivan took over, the Penguins were in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, and currently sitting outside of the 2 wild card spots. The Penguins are now the 2nd best team in the East behind only the Capitals, and 4th best in the NHL overall. The currently sit 2nd in the division, and their magic number is 4 (which decreases for every point the Penguins get and every point the Rangers do NOT get).
Did anyone have the Penguins in 2nd in the Metro after that 0-4 stretch when Sullivan took over? Well, besides me, probably not a lot of people.
Then finally, there are the stats to back up the Penguins’ play.
Without listing specific goals, assists, points, etc…
- Sidney Crosby went from being a washed up player who may as well step down as the number 2 center to Malkin and adopt a more defensive style to the 3rd best in points in the NHL with a decent chance to win the Hart Trophy.
- Kris Letang went from having a horrendous beginning of the season to looking like a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate. Although he probably will not win, being that he has not been consistent throughout the WHOLE year, he still will receive recognition.
- Hornqvist went from being invisible to his normal self parked in front of the net. He now has 3 goals in as many games.
- Kessel has gone from “what a washed up nobody, he can’t even hit a wide open net” to “legitimate sniper/goal-scorer” in a matter of weeks.
None of these players, as well as many others that I have not listed, do not turn around as radically as they did without benefiting from Mike Sullivan’s system.
Also, do you all remember that Penguins offense that wasn’t producing earlier in the year? That one that was 27th in the NHL is goals for when Sullivan took over? Well, since Sullivan took over, the Penguins just happen to LEAD the NHL in goals for with 165, good for 3.236 goals/game. Overall, the Penguins are 3rd in the NHL in goals for.
Yeah, from 27th to 3rd. That’s not coincidence.
The Penguins also rank 1st in the NHL in Corsi for % (54.6) in all situations since Sullivan’s take-over. Simply put, Corsi essentially is a possession metric, as I have referred to in past articles. This means that the Penguins are the BEST possession team in hockey since Sullivan took over. They also rank 1st in the NHL in Fenwick % (55.2), which is another one of those possession metrics.
The Penguins not only lead the NHL in shots on goal during Sullivan’s tenure, but they also rank 1st in shots on goal for %. This basically means that the Penguins have the best ratio of shots for to shots against of any team in the NHL.
Finally, do you all remember last year, and even earlier this year, when the Penguins would find themselves trailing by even just 1 goal, and you just knew it was over? Heck, if the other team went up 2, you may as well have just shut the TV off. Not any more…
The Penguins rank 1st in the NHL in the following categories when leading by 2 goals: Fenwick % (67.6), Corsi for % (66.8), high-danger scoring chances for % (68.0), high-scoring chances differential (+37), and % of offensive vs. defensive zone faceoffs (67.9).
The Penguins have turned this season around. Dare I say, they started from the bottom…now they’re here.
Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that the Penguins haven’t had the likes of Rust, Fleury, Malkin, and others in the lineup in recent games, and yet they’re still dominating teams.
None of this happens without Mike Sullivan behind the bench. He deserves way more than just credit or a high-5. This guy deserves a Jack Adams.
Plus, who knows how far the Penguins will make it in the playoffs. I’d be pretty scared to play them right now…