In this year's NHL14 video game, the yearly popular offering from EA Sports, they have a mode to recreate the legendary NHL94 game. So what better way to celebrate than by looking back at the Pittsburgh Penguins then and now.
Lemieux was the highest rated player in the game and with five other forwards 69 or better, two top defensemen in Larry Murphy, Ulf Samuelsson and a top goaltender in Tom Barrasso the Penguins were one of the highest ranked teams in the game. That team also had a 20 year old former first round pick poised for a breakout season- Marty Straka, who scored 30 goals and 34 assists.
Fast-forward 20 years and the Penguins still have the highest rated player in the game (Sidney Crosby) and a solid supporting cast with Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis to go along with top defensemen in Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik who in video games can do his Ulf impression even more. For fresh-faced breakout star, Beau Bennett will get his chance to play on a team with all that firepower and might have a big-time year (though we'd definitely bet the under on a 30 goal season in this day and age for such a young player).
The thing I loved about NHL94 and games from those eras was it pulled no punches. If a player wasn't very good, he was going to get a rating in the 40's or even 30's overall. Today, whether it's common courtesy or being PC, every player of NHL caliber is at least in the high 60's or even 70. If in NHL94 a player was a 70 or above, chances are he was one of the best players on his team.
In a perfect video-game simulation, I struggle to think who would win, the '94 incarnation Penguins or the modern day NHL14 version. Given that they were equally rated, the current team probably has better defensive depth, but the offense back then (on a team that scored 299 goals that year, or 3.63 per , game) might be too much to handle. Of course though, Barrasso and Wregget both posted .893 save percentages that season showing that it was a much different era back then.
In the end the battle of the Pens might come down to which superstar center was healthy. Lemieux was limited to just 22 games (he still put up 37 points though, because he's Mario Lemieux) and given Crosby's recent injury history, we'll have to see how it goes for him. If you played a seven game series between the two Penguin teams, I think I'd give the nod to the modern day version, probably in 6 or 7 games on account of being deeper and thinking the Malkin/Neal line would feast on weaker defense than the '94 team's second line led by Ron Francis would see.
One thing is for sure, hopefully the modern day Penguins will have more success in the playoffs than 20 years ago when Pittsburgh dropped it's one and only playoff series to the Washington Capitals, 4 games to 2 in the first round.
That note aside, who were some of your favorite NHL94's? Roenick is cliche, but obvious fun. I always liked Mullen and MacEachern for some reason, other than the obvious stars.