For the fifth straight year, there won’t be a Stanley Cup parade in Pittsburgh. But let’s be real here: Considering the Championship droughts that some teams face, the fact that the Penguins won in 2009 and have made the playoffs each season since 2007 should be reason enough to feel good about the state of the franchise, right?
Penguins fans are often perceived as being spoiled, and having a sense of entitlement, and that might be true, but it reflects the team culture itself. The fans feed off of what they see and hear from players and management, and the Penguins organization certainly can’t be described as humble. Too many times over the past few years there has been a sense that the team feels they can turn it on whenever they want and have success, that their talent will carry them through. The players consistently cite a lack of desperation in their game. It’s a troubling assessment. What happened to that drive that should fuel competitive athletes? Are they talented? Yes. But talent alone seldom wins anything. The lack of accountability, the lack of push-back and preparation falls on the coach, and he will very likely pay the price.
Time for a Coaching Change?
Teams fire their coaches all the time. Every year, 29 teams don’t win the Cup, and 15 teams get eliminated from the playoffs. Why does it seem like the sky is falling every time that happens to the Penguins? Despite his recent choke-job in the postseason, many people still believe Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, or at least in the top two. His teammate Evgeni Malkin isn’t far behind him. How often, in the salary cap era, can you have two of the very best players in the world on your team? So many franchises struggle year after year, hoping to get their transcendent talent that will turn things around. So many teams fail to even sniff the playoffs with any consistency. Little is expected of them. Ask teams like the Panthers, or the Sabres, or the Flames or the Maple Leafs what it’s little to toil in futility. Ask the Sharks, or the Blues or the Canucks how much that one generational player may have pushed them over the edge.
High expectations are usually a surefire route to disappointment. When a team employs highly skilled players, more is expected of them. The Penguins don’t just have highly skilled players. They have that generational talent. Not just one guy, but two. In their primes. They’ve won one Cup. You can’t blame the fans for wanting more. Crosby and Malkin won’t be in the primes forever. What are the chances that in ten years the Pens will have anything close to the talent they have now? Nothing is guaranteed, and we all know how injuries can rob teams and players of success. No one knows this more than the Penguins. So when the team is healthy, you can’t help but hope they go on a run. But save for 2011 when Crosby and Malkin were both injured, this team has fallen way short of expectations, whether those expectations are realistic or not.
Are there Unrealistic Expectations?
The Penguins were not a Stanley Cup caliber team this year. Unlike last season when they loaded up at the trade deadline, the 2014 Penguins weren’t deep enough to win it all. Anyone who knows hockey would agree. Why weren’t the Penguins stars surrounded by the right talent to win it all? Bad contracts to guys such as Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang are part of the problem. But then again, there were some moments when the Penguins looked like they could beat anyone. But those moments were few and far between. There was something missing this season. Something has been missing since 2009. It’s up to management and players to figure that out.
Penguins fans may be emotional and unreasonable at times, but they all understand one thing: we’re wasting a lot of time. The early 2000’s were dreadful for this franchise, and it could easily go back to that after Crosby and Malkin retire. So now is the time. Now we have the talent. It takes a lot to win a Cup. It takes the right mix of guys in the room, and it takes some luck. But the Penguins haven’t inspired any confidence that they could make that leap, that they have what it takes. And as each year goes by, so does another year toward the expiration date of the Penguins star players.
Are the Penguins Not as Good as we Think?
The ebbs and flows of sports suggest that a lull is in the Penguins future. They had Lemieux and Jagr, and got two Cups out of them. Then there was nothing. Now we’re in the next phase. How long will this phase last? There’s no telling. That’s why fans get mad. That’s why they boo. They know this won’t last forever. They know they could be the Sabres or the Maple Leafs. They’d rather be the Blackhawks, who have really figured out how to make the most of their talent.
“You could be the Capitals, who have a star and nothing to show for it”, some people might say. Yes that’s true. But Washington never quite had the core that the Penguins have enjoyed. One Cup isn’t good enough when you have arguably the best player in the world on your team.
Call us spoiled if you want. But we aren’t stupid. We’re wasting a gift. We’re wasting a privilege. We’re wasting something so many other teams are desperate for. We have superstars, and they’re being wasted. Perhaps the Penguins brass feel the same way. Whatever happens this summer will prove that. Even one more Cup with these guys would be great. It’s hard to win the Cup. It’s nearly impossible at times. But we have what everyone wants. Time to stop wasting it.