The Plight of a Pittsburgh Penguins Fan

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Dan Bylsma hired Jacques Martin to help cure the team's defensive woes. It's yet to pay off. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin - Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin – Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

“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.

2 thoughts on “The Plight of a Pittsburgh Penguins Fan”

  1. Very good article and very truthful…. Some might say this team peaked too early.. Some might say this team underachieves yearly.. Both are true to a degree and the underachieving falls on the inept playoff coaching and a stubborn GM.. You’re right this fan base has SOME OF THE MOST UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS IN THE NHL.. What most fans seem to not grasp is that just bc you have Crosby and Malkin that doesn’t guarantee a trip to the finals every year. It’s about having the right team and the Pens haven’t had that for probably 3/5 years. This is why Shero was rightfully fired. I’m not sure why he lasted as long as he did when his drafting, developing, and contract extensions/signings were all HORRIBLE.. I was a teen in the 90’s and had the opportunity to watch some seriously talented teams, I also remember the likes of Rico Fata, Konstatin Koltsov, Milan Kraft, and Kelly Buchburger playing on some horrendous teams from 2002 through the lockout. There are many in this fan base who either turned their nose at hockey during the 4 year down time or just weren’t into hockey at that time. However, once 87 and 71 came along thanks to the phenomenal job that David Moorehouse has done with the marketing now the Pens are every bit as popular as the Steelers; as the 7 straight years of sellouts and having the highest viewership tv ratings of any American NHL or NBA team over the last 4 years. I think many of the unrealistic expectations come from the fans who have only been tuned into the Pens since 2006-07. Every real NHL fan knows the difficulty of making the SCF yearly, and most know that it’s a solid roster, some bounces, great D, and solid goaltending that secure a cup. Too be honest the Pens haven’t had any of that most years; 2013 being the only exception. In 2010 you could argue they may have been tired after 08 and 09 runs, 2011 NO 87 and 71, 2012 an unhealthy 87 mixed with horrible coaching, 2013 unbelievable horrible coaching, 2014 a severely weak roster bc NO DEPTH IN SYSTEM REGARDING FORWARDS, poor signings, and a cap drop. This organization has had success to then nth degree in the regular season but has underachieved in the playoffs and that falls on Bylsma.. He hasn’t grasped that his system doesn’t work on talented teams when they see it on a consistent basis. He might be a sought after coach but he will always be a playoff failure if he doesn’t wise up. He was fortunate enough to have Therrien’s assistants in 2009 and the defense system remained in tact. That’s why he won his ONLY cup.
    The sad thing about wasting primes of 87 and 71 ( who will turn 27 and 28 this off season) is that some of the youthful D they have in their system should have been taking the NHL ice over the last 2 seasons. Now they will have to play lights out or will be traded for forward depth. Ownership wanted Bylsma gone last season and Shero wouldn’t fire him, so the right thing to do should have been to fire Shero last year after his trading for Iggy failed miserably at a very high expense. You would think they have maybe 5 years left before 87 and 71 primes are over. Hopefully Julien Brisebois comes in and gets rid of the heavy contracts that Scuderi, Letang, Fleury, Neal, and Martin have.. Maybe not all of them but a few need to go especially the cancer James Neal.

  2. Good piece. Maybe expectations have been realistic, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure, the Pens had absolutely everything going for them. They had two generational talents, a new coach that everyone wanted to play for (according to an NHLPA poll), the look of a potential dynasty in the making, free agents wanted to come here and guys with no-trade clauses had us on their list of teams, and we had a new state of the art building in a city with a storied and rabid sports history. There were all the comparisons by pretty much every to the Edmonton Oilers of the 80’s…..the Pens were a team that lost convincingly to the Wings and returned the very next year to dethrone them. It was all so perfect.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for expectations to be high in this case. It would’ve been no different for any other fan base if the chips were stacked the same way for them. Look at the reaction of Boston fans at the loss last night. No prettier.

    Pens fans are nervous because the team still has a lot going for it, but the window is closing.

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