The Penguins go into tonight’s action against the Buffalo Sabres 1 point back of both the division lead in the Metro and the lead on the Presidents Trophy, awarded to the team who finishes with the most points in the NHL, with less than 3 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season. A huge reason that the Penguins are in the position that they are is because of Mike Sullivan.
You know, the Mike Sullivan that turned the hibernating Penguins of last year into an offensive juggernaut that went on to win the Stanley Cup.
That same coach continues to impress, and has an extremely strong case for taking home the Jack Adams Award, which is awarded to the coach who is deemed to have contributed the most to his team’s success.
Not only should Mike Sullivan be a candidate to receive this award, but he should win. Easily.
Some may argue that Sullivan should not receive the award, because the Penguins are such a skilled team that was expected to be towards the top of their division and conference by the end of the year. Some have made cases for guys such as Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, Capitals coach Barry Trotz, Leafs coach Mike Babcock, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, or even Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. Although all of these coaches are fair candidates to receive the award, Sullivan deserves it even more so.
And no, this is not a result of a “Penguins fan bias.” Let the statistics speak for themselves in the graph below:
On the horizontal axis is “team total man-games lost to injury” and on the vertical axis is “team wins.” In addition, the bubble size of each team represents the quality of injured players. For example, if the Penguins had 200 man games lost to injury, but the majority of those man games lost were to bottom 6 forwards and depth defenseman, the bubble would be small, whereas if they had 200 man games lost while missing guys such as Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Kessel, etc. the bubble would be large.
At first glance, it seems as though the only bubble that is larger than the Penguins is Buffalo, who currently are not in the playoff picture and likely will not make the playoffs barring a huge win streak down the stretch. The Penguins bubble is also very close to the size of the Red Wings’ and Canucks’ bubbles, but both of these teams are also not in the playoff picture and likely won’t be in 3 weeks.
The Penguins? Well, they’re fighting for a president’s trophy and for 1st place in the best division in hockey this year.
To make things more interesting, try to look for the other teams that have been extremely successful this year: Washington, Columbus, Chicago, Minnesota…you’ll find them all with relatively smaller/medium size bubbles and towards the upper left of the graph, meaning that they do not have many man-games lost to injury compared to the rest of the NHL and that the guys they are not high quality guys, relatively speaking. In fact, the only 2 teams with more man-games lost to injury than the Penguins that are in the playoff picture are Anaheim and Edmonton, but neither are fighting for a division championship in the toughest division in hockey. Also, neither of their bubble sizes are near that of Pittsburgh’s.
So if the Penguins have the 10th most man-games lost to injury in the NHL as well as having the most cumulative quality of players injured besides Buffalo, how are the Penguins in a position to still end the season as the President’s Trophy winners?
To add to it, the Penguins have been without 6 or 7 guys for the last 9 games that would usually be in the starting lineup. The Penguins record in those games? 7-1-1.
To add to that, the Penguins lead the NHL in goals for per game at 3.46,and shots per game at 34.1, despite all the injuries. They rank 16th in the NHL is goals against per game, which is not bad when considering that their #1 defenseman, Kris Letang, has only played in 41 of the teams’ 71 games, and both Daley and Maatta, the Penguins usual 2nd D pair, have both been out for at least a month. Guys like Chad Ruhwedel, Cameron Gaunce, and others that many did not think would be getting any time, have had to play top 4 minutes occasionally due to all the defensive injuries for the Penguins. The Penguins will likely be playing their 12th defenseman of the season tonight, as newly acquired Frank Corrado will play on the 3rd pair with Mark Streit, according to the morning skate line rushes.
For a team that has missed guys such as Letang, Malkin, Crosby, Maatta, Daley, Sheary, and Rust for some time to still lead the NHL in goals for per game, is just absolutely incredible, and the man who deserves that credit is Mike Sullivan.
Could you imagine if/when this Penguins team gets healthy for the playoffs?!
Give the man the Jack Adams Award already…