We're just one day away from opening night where the Penguins will raise their fourth Stanley Cup banner to the rafters against Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Number three on our countdown takes us to an event that didn't even happen on the rink. The firing of former coach Mike Johnston and the hiring of new coach Mike Sullivan.
On December 12, 2015 (the day I graduated college), the Penguins fired Mike Johnston and Assistant Coach Gary Agnew. The Penguins went 58-37-15 under Johnston's 18 month tenure, and 15-10-3 during the 2015 season. It wasn't just the standings that lead to Johnston's firing, but the way in which the players played and were used under Mike Johnston. Sidney Crosby was virtually a ghost, recording just 19 points and was on pace for the worst season of his career. Daniel Sprong (who) didn't exist, playing on average seven minute a night. The Pens were in desperate need of change and that came with the hiring of new Head Coach Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan had been around the league awhile, coaching the Bruins back in 2003, and assisting with the Lightning, Rangers, Canucks, and most recently the Blackhawks. He was named Wilkes-Barre Scranton's Head Coach on June 18th following John Hynes departure to New Jersey. While his time Wilkes-Barre was short, Sullivan had success, leading the club to an 18-5 start.
YouTube clip via CBS Sports
Sullivan's first game came against the Washington Capitals on December 14th. The Penguins went on to lose that game by a score of 4-1, however they came out winners at the end of the day by trading defenseman Rob Scuderi to the Chicago Blackhawks for Trevor Daley. This move was the first of many that gave the Penguins a boost of speed and really implemented Sullivan's style that you see today.
The Penguins would lose the first four games of Sullivan's Penguin career, making the coaching change questionable by many. What those people didn't understand was that change takes time and the Penguins were so brainwashed under Mike Johnston, that they forgot how to have fun playing hockey. Sullivan got his first win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and his former bench boss / friend John Tortorella on December 21st.
The Penguins slowly got back to playing 'Penguins hockey' and added some key pieces along the way. On January 18th at 3:00AM, the Penguins sent struggling winger David Perron and defenseman Adam Clendening to Anaheim for struggling forward Carl Hagelin. The move came as a bit of a surprise but the change in scenery quickly paid off for both Perron and Hagelin.
Defenseman Justin Schultz was added on February 27th to provide some depth on the blue line. Schultz, just like Hagelin just needed a change of scenery in order to be productive. Along with these trades, Sullivan did something Mike Johnston never did, trust his youthful players. Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Conor Sheary saw increased time with the Penguins and it was paying off tremendously.
You know the rest of the story, the Penguins peaked at the right time and were hot heading into the playoffs. The Penguins pretty much dominated the postseason, outskating every team, and showing off their powerhouse of an offense. Mike Sullivan is largely to thank for the turnaround, preaching 'Penguins hockey' and speed. The Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup, largely in part to a move made on December 12th.
Photo via New York Dailey News
Stay tuned tonight as we try to crank out two more countdown posts between now and tomorrow night's opening game against the Washington Capitals. Also stay tuned for our new website, which should, if all goes to plan, be up and running by tomorrow night.
Old Posts from our site, heyyyyyfannnssss (4/11-2/15). Cute name, but impossible to remember.