Following last year’s disappointing playoff exit, the Penguins found themselves under fire from their passionate fanbase. To an extent, it makes sense; after all, with great talent comes great expectations. But if people would have taken a step back from calling for Coach Dan Bylsma’s head, the exile of Marc-Andre Fleury or for G.M. Ray Shero to simply blow the team up, they would surely realize that there were 26 other teams that would have loved to make it as far as Pittsburgh did last year.
When a club has so much talent and so much potential, though, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s pretty damn hard to win the Stanley Cup. Since the Penguins joined the NHL in 1967, though, only Montreal (10), Edmonton (5), Detroit (4) and the New York Islanders (4) have won more Cups than the three Pittsburgh has claimed. Pretty impressive company.
With that success in mind, we decided to take a step back and look at five things, in no particular order, that make Pens’ fans among the luckiest in the NHL:
According to a recent survey in ESPN The Magazine, the Penguins represent the NHL’s top team when it comes to fan relations (Pittsburgh is also the number one ranked hockey club in terms of stadium experience – more on that later). The results shouldn’t really come as a surprise, though, given all the unique experiences the Pens provide for their fans.
Whether it comes in the form of players handing out pizzas to college students waiting in line for discounted tickets or players personally delivering season tickets to fans in the offseason, the Pens have come up with a multitude of ways to show their supporters just how much they mean to the club.
While providing fans with the opportunity to meet some of the NHL’s brightest stars is no doubt a special treat, what really sticks out is the clubs involvement in various charities within the Pittsburgh community. From the Mario Lemieux Foundation to donations spearheaded by Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are clearly intent on helping make Pittsburgh a better place.
Pittsburgh may have taken advantage of several fortunate draft positions to obtain a core that includes Crosby, Fleury and Evgeni Malkin but, make no mistake, Pittsburgh is an incredibly well run club. In fact, Shero was recognized as last season’s G.M. of the year thanks to his efforts to put his team in the best possible position to win. The moves may not have ultimately worked out but it wasn’t for a lack of trying on Shero’s part.
And, while last year was the first time Shero was recognized in such a manner, his propensity for both executing shrewd signings and pulling the trigger on key deals consistently serves to position the Penguins among the NHL’s elite. As long as Ray is in charge, fans can take comfort in knowing he will craftily build around the club’s…
By far, the most obvious component on this list results from the embarrassment of riches Pittsburgh possesses in terms of talent. Pens’ fans have long been spoiled with world class athletes and that’s not something that’s likely to change anytime soon. Forget clubs in the NHL, how many professional sports teams out there can legitimately claim to employ two of the five (and that’s being modest) greatest players in their game today?
Thanks to Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins can. Indeed, the “Two-Headed Monster” has grown accustomed to creating nightmares for opposing coaches as competitors continue to search for ways to slow the duo down. Between the two, they have helped deliver a third Stanley Cup to Western Pennsylvania while treating the Pittsburgh faithful to one Calder, one Conn Smythe, one Rocket Richard, two Hart, three Lester/Ted Lindsay and three Art Ross Trophies. To put it bluntly, these two alone are worth the price of admission.
But while Sid and Geno represent the biggest names, they aren’t the only stars in Pittsburgh. No, in Kris Letang, the Pens boast one of the premier offensive defensemen in the league; in James Neal, the club possesses a top-end sharp shooter, someone capable of putting up 40 goals every year; and in Fleury, the Pittsburgh net is guarded by arguably the most athletic goalie in the NHL. Throw in Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis and you have the building blocks for one of the most dynamic squads in hockey.
As a result, all that star power provides one lucky fanbase with the potential to witness something spectacular on any given night.
CONSOL Energy Center
It wasn’t long ago that the Penguins played in the NHL’s oldest arena, a badly outdated building by today’s NHL standards. That, however, is no longer the case.
When the CONSOL Energy Center opened in 2010, the Penguins moved into what is consistently voted one of the nicest facilities in the NHL. Indeed, while the plush confines afforded to the players are certainly appreciated, it’s the various components of the arena geared toward the fans that get the real accolades:
Features of the building include almost 2,000 club seats, a fine-dining restaurant, four different gates to enter the building, an HD scoreboard with high-tech instant replay and scores from around the league, and an average of one concession stand for every 158 people (which eliminates long lines). The Pittsburgh Penguins team store measures over 4,000 square feet.
Also located in the concourse is the Highmark Wall of Champions, where the Penguins’ help developing hockey in the arena is showcased. With two main levels of seats (in addition to the club seats and suites) the arena bowl is very nice and can accommodate every type of guest, from handicapped, to young and old alike. The architecture of the building is also beautiful, with glass windows along one full side of the arena, and a plaza filled with towering trees surrounding the arena. – Alan Bass, Bleacher Report
As a result, not only do Pens’ fans get to watch one of the most exciting squads in hockey but they get to do it in the comfy confines of one of the NHL’s nicest arenas.
In case it wasn’t enough that Mario Lemieux saved a struggling Penguins’ franchise as a player, he came back and did it again as a businessman…twice
When the Pens found themselves in a financial crisis and facing bankruptcy, Lemieux spearheaded a group that would purchase the club in 1999. Then, when the organization was facing relocation as a result of their overwhelming need for a modern arena, Mario’s's group was there to push through the deal that kept the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Fast forward to the present where Lemieux and Ron Burkle own what has become one of the most successful and lucrative franchises in today’s NHL. As a result, ownership has authorized Shero to consistently spend to the salary cap limit in the hopes of giving the Penguins the best chance to win year in and year out. As a result, the club has made the playoffs every year since 2006-’07 and is perennially a Stanley Cup contender.
And, to think, none of it would have been possible had it not been for Lemieux and Burkle stepping in to save what was once (or several times) a fledgling franchise.