Penguins Collection of Misfits Creating Something Special

Phil Kessel. Nick Bonino. Carl Hagelin. The list of Pittsburgh Penguins players who are flipping the proverbial “bird” towards their doubters goes on and on.

Few names on the Penguins’ roster came to the franchise without facing incredible adversity, or carrying with them bad labels, and poor reputations. A collection of misfits and cast-offs , with a retread general manager Jim Rutherford leading the way.

Alright, now, Pittsburgh has no first-round picks anymore. They traded their first-round pick from the year before. They traded their first-round pick for this year, and now they’ve traded their first-round pick for next year. But they have Kessel, who may score as many goals as, uh, Alex Semin did,” he said, as Semin scored six goals. “And I don’t have to take credit for that.

The above quote was from a Yahoo! Puck Daddy article in which Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. (Rutherford’s former employer) was very critical of the Penguins’ organization, and GMJR during a press conference. Later in the discussion, Karmanos stated that before team ownership had a chance to sell the franchise the cupboard would be bare. Right now, the Penguins may have better long-term stability than at any point in the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era.

Luckily, Karmanos runs the hapless Hurricanes, and not the Penguins.

The Puzzle Pieces Come Together

The Toronto media loved to hate Kessel. After years of unrealistic expectations, playoff droughts, and battles with reporters, the former Maple Leaf leads the Penguins in points as they make a last push in the Stanley Cup Finals. Hagelin was a bust in Anaheim after being acquired, and re-signed. His speed and tenacity have helped Pittsburgh shape a new identity. Bonino was an underachiever in Vancouver. He is now the anchor of the “HBK” line, and has scored some of the most critical goals in the playoffs.

Matt Cullen was old and slow. Right now he is the best fourth-line center in the game. Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and Tom Kuhnhackl started the season as nameless faces toiling in what many regarded to be the worst farm system in the league. The Penguins would not be where they are without the impact that these three have had on the organization.

Even Crosby, Malkin, and Kris Letang were labeled as poor playoff performers. Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy were criticized all season. All appear to be silencing their critics. Then there is the injured Trevor Daley, who they acquired for Rob Scuderi. Enough said.

Unconventional Approach

Even with their success over the last few months of the regular season, nobody expected success. Critics said that the Penguins’ system, built on skill and puck possession, could not withstand the pressure of playoff hockey. No tough guys, no stay-at-home defenseman. No problem. Pittsburgh’s collection of disgraced stars, underachievers, has-beens, and never-weres are three wins away from the Stanley Cup. That didn’t happen by accident.

Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan took a new approach with this team in regards to both personnel, and on-ice strategy. In a league that is slow to embrace change, I would consider them to far ahead of their time. They are changing the game of hockey one shift at a time.  Some people thought they were crazy.  To quote an old Apple Computers television commercial,

…while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

The HBK Line…and Sandwich

I feel that I must mention the HBK sandwich from Pittsburgh’s Primanti Bros. It contains Ham, Bacon, and Kielbasa. This is not an advertisement, it is me legitimately wanting to stop writing this article and go eat one.

Until next time.