The current Toronto Maple Leafs season is starting to feel like the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup run.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans dream about it daily.
It’s a warm June evening. You’re wearing your lucky jersey gathered around the TV and the clock is ticking down: 3…2…1. The Toronto Maple Leafs are Stanley Cup champions!
Typically, when this occurs, your alarm goes off and you wake up. However, if you compare the 2015-16 NHL season to this year’s, it’s possible that history may repeat itself.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Penguins very Similar
After 28 games played that season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a coaching change bringing in Mike Sullivan. The team had played 28 games and were 15-10-3.
Having made the playoffs in nine straight seasons, including two Stanley Cup appearances and one championship, the team was under performing. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang in the prime of their careers, the team needed a spark.
That change propelled them to a 33-16-5 record with Sullivan in charge, and eventually lead them to a Stanley Cup victory.
Although the Penguins had already won a Stanley Cup with most of their core players, there are a lot of similarities to that team and the current Toronto Maple Leafs roster.
For one, the coaching changes happened at very similar times in the seasons. Pittsburgh made a move 28 games into their season, whereas the Leafs did it 23 games in.
Secondly, Mike Sullivan was drafted 69th overall in the 1987 NHL Draft and was the coach for Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate at the time of his hiring, and Sheldon Keefe was drafted 47th overall in the 1999 NHL Draft and was also the Leafs affiliate coach.
Most importantly though is the new philosophy that both coaches have brought in. In a 2016 article with The Hockey News, here’s what Mike Sullivan said about his team’s mentality.
“One of the things we tried to do as a coaching staff is instill a game plan where we could play to our strengths…When you look at our core players, they all want to play a speed game. They can all skate. They all have really good hockey sense. They have the ability to move the puck and change the point of attack. So speed in all its forms, whether it’s foot speed or team speed and your ability to move the puck and change the point of attack quickly, and to create opportunities or to create a competitive advantage, is what I envisioned with this group. So we’ve tried to implement some strategies to give these players an opportunity to play to their strengths.”
The Penguins focused on two specific things: speed and possession.
Sound familiar? If you watch nightly since Keefe took over, the Toronto Maple Leafs speed has been lightning fast and the team has controlled possession every night.
Hopefully these traits continue and the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, just like the Penguins did.