Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup
The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.
The second Stanley Cup of the Sidney Crosby Era was a long time coming. Long enough that the Penguins are apparently already in a better place in terms of contemplating the next one than they were after they’d won the last one.
Back in 2009 in Detroit, the talk of a repeat and a potential dynasty commenced minutes after Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Nicklas Lidstrom and the clock finally hit triple zeroes at the Joe Louis Arena.
This time, the Penguins have been much more humble in the afterglow of what they accomplished in San Jose — much more appreciative of how hard these Cups are to collect and much more respectful of what it takes just to get the opportunity to play for one in the first place.
“We’ve put a pretty good organization together,” Pens president David Morehouse told NHL.com. “We do have the capacity to get here once or twice again in the near future.
“But I’ll never take it for granted like I did in ’09, I can tell you that.”
Assuming Morehouse is speaking for the organization —and there’s no reason to suspect he’s the only one in the organization who has emerged with such a refined perspective — that’s a good thing.
Repeating ain’t easy, as the Stars, Devils (twice), Avalanche, Red Wings (twice), Lightning, Hurricanes, Ducks, Pens, Blackhawks (three times), Bruins and Kings (twice) have found out firsthand since Detroit last put the finishing touches on back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998.
When the necessary desperation is replaced by a misguided sense of expectation, the task becomes even more difficult.
The Penguins apparently won’t have that to contend with as they hunt another Cup.
So they have that going for them, presumably, as we look ahead to a title defense that will commence sooner rather than later.
But that’s not all.
Free agency won’t be a significant issue this summer. Matt Cullen, Ben Lovejoy, Steven Oleksy and Jeff Zatkoff are the only players about to become exposed to the highest bidder. And while Cullen and Lovejoy played critical roles and Zatkoff was a factor in the organization’s fourth Stanley Cup run, all three are much more replaceable than Crosby, Kris Letang and Matt Murray.
A significant portion of the roster is still developing. Murray, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, to name three, were in development camp last July. What they’ve gone through since can do nothing but accelerate their development, and they aren’t alone in that regard.
Mike Sullivan will open the 2016-17 season in Pittsburgh, not AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton. Sullivan worked miracles starting in December in terms of his ability to change the culture and motivate the players. He got an offensive team to embrace defense. He got a soft, fragile team to toughen up mentally. He got everyone to become accountable. He even got Phil Kessel to backcheck. What type of miracles might Sullivan be able to work starting on Day One?
And last but not least: The Penguins are much more dependent upon the group and much less a star-driven team this time around. Crosby won the Conn Smythe trophy, handed out annually to the MVP of the playoffs, but it was more awarded than it was earned (a number of Penguins had arguments for the hardware equally as compelling as Crosby’s). Rust and Carl Hagelin scored as many playoff goals as Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (six each), but not as many as Patric Hornqvist (nine). The blueline corps was good enough to survive the loss of Trevor Daley, the team’s second-best defenseman, in the Eastern Conference Final and continue to win. And the player who was arguably the team’s MVP in the regular season, Fleury, played in just one playoff game (and lost it in overtime).
As Sullivan noted on multiple occasions, this was a team in the truest sense of the word.
And if the Pens can keep that vibe going, anything’s possible.
Even a repeat.