The Pittsburgh Penguins face the Washington Capitals Saturday in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series.
The NHL announced the finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which is given to the best head coach of the season. This year’s finalists are the Dallas Stars’ Lindy Ruff, the Florida Panthers’ Gerard Gallant and the Washington Capital’s Barry Trotz. Though it may not be surprising to others in the media, the exclusion of Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan as a finalist is a major gaffe by the NHL.
Unlike the 3 finalists, Sullivan first game as Penguins head coach was not until December 14, 28 games into the season. He took the helm after the team fired Mike Johnston. Despite a 15-10-3, the Penguins continued to look out of sync and uncomfortable in Johnston’s system. It seemed to be holding back the team from its true potential.
They were sitting a point out of the playoffs; no one thought the Penguins could contend with Johnston running the show. Jim Rutherford finally pulled the plug, the rest is history.
The transition to Sullivan was not a smooth one for the first handful of games. The team lost its first four games under their new coach, including his debut versus the Washington Capitals, who the Penguins have on the brink of another playoff failure. As the team settled into the new system, they began to roll.
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At the start of 2016, the Penguins sat 18-15-4. Two months later they were 32-21-8, but were still barely in the playoffs, up 3 points on the Flyers for the last spot in the Eastern Conference. Then came March, which comes in like a lion in out like a lamb. The Penguins came into the month like a lion, but they didn’t leave like a lamb, they left the month roaring for the entire league to hear.
They went 12-4 in the month of March that was booked ended by 2 long winning streaks: a 6 gamer and a 10 gamer that extended into April. The Penguins were now one of the biggest threats to win the Stanley Cup. Months prior, no one would have given them a chance to win the cup under Johnston.
Now, Mike Sullivan has the Penguins one game after from their first berth in the Eastern Conference finals since 2013. By knocking out the Capitals, he would be knocking out one of the Jack Adams finalist Trotz, who coached the team to the presidents’ trophy (the most overrated trophy in sports).
Despite not being a finalist, the media and Penguins fans alike respect the hell out of Sullivan for the tremendous job he has done during the ship around and steering it towards the promise land. He may not have a trophy of his own at the end of the season, but he is still 9 wins away from hoisting a much heavy, more rewarding trophy.