History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It
The desire for more a year ago helped fuel the Penguins’ quest to repeat this season. Should their thirst for yet another Cup prove as unquenchable next season, there’s no limit to what they might yet achieve. Even a Three-peat.
The Penguins may have made history by winning the NHL’s first back-to-back Stanley Cup championships since 1997-98, but they aren’t interested in historical perspective as it relates to their individual and collective legacies.
Not yet, at least.
“I’m not think about that,” Evgeni Malkin maintained in the immediate aftermath in Nashville. “We still play together like long time. Maybe when we’re retired we think about that. But now we’re still young, we’re still hungry. And of course we want more.”
The desire for more a year ago helped fuel the Penguins’ quest to repeat this season.
Should their thirst for yet another Cup prove as unquenchable next season, there’s no limit to what they might yet achieve.
Even a Three-peat.
Malkin will turn 31 on July 31.
Captain Sidney Crosby will hit 30 on Aug. 7.
They’re in their primes, not approaching the end of the line.
When you have that, you have a chance.
And when you have the intangible mix that complemented the Penguins’ top-end and role-playing talent this season, the chemistry that head coach Mike Sullivan referenced repeatedly as “a competitive advantage,” you have more than that.
The story of the 2016-17 Penguins was as much about personality as it was performance.
It was as much about camaraderie as it was combustibility.
The bond shared between the players was such that winning the Cup was actually a letdown in at least one respect.
“It’s kinda sad that we finished the season,” Chris Kunitz insisted. “We honestly have that much fun playing together and coming to the rink every day.”
It’ll be a different collection that reports for training camp in September.
But for every Kunitz or Matt Cullen that ends up elsewhere, there’s a Scott Wilson or a Carter Rowney positioned to pick up where those destined to depart will leave off.
Free agency, the expansion draft or some other force of attrition doesn’t figure to rob the Penguins of the standard that’s been established and demanded in the locker room.
NHL veteran Ron Hainsey recognized that almost immediately upon his in-season arrival.
“There’s an expectation the group has, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” he said. “And when they’re not up to that level that they expect of themselves, deal with it and move on to the next day. There’s a lot of self-confidence in that room, as there should be.
“That’s something that’s just kind of earned _ it can’t be taught _ and plenty of guys here have it.”
Probably a few more now than when Hainsey was acquired on Feb. 23.
Enough that the 2017-18 Penguins will have an array of players experienced in the art of winning no matter the specifics of their configuration.
They’ll have a coach who has done nothing but bring out the best in them on the way to winning two Cups in his two seasons on the job.
They’ll have a goaltender, Matt Murray, who has put two Cups in the bag before graduating from NHL rookie status.
They’ll have their best defenseman, Kris Letang, presumably back and eager to make up for lost time.
They’ll have Malkin, who grew immeasurably off the ice as a leader and a veteran presence this season.
And they’ll have Crosby.
“Everybody has seen the way he plays, everyone knows how he plays, but I love and am just so impressed with the way he steps up when his team needs him the most,” Cullen marveled after Crosby’s signature performance in Game 5 of the Final. “He’s one of those unique players that has that sense when it’s time to raise the level, and he’s one of the very few that can raise his level that high.”
The level Crosby attained with the Final tied at two games apiece, in Cullen’s estimation, was one at which Crosby “took the team on his shoulders and said ‘follow me.’”
There’s no need to contemplate legacies until the Penguins discover exactly how far into history that might lead.