In the last episode of The Office, loveable doofus Andy Bernard wistfully said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
Recent events to two peers of the Pittsburgh Penguins made me think of that quote and feel appreciation of the run they’re on. Like the Pens, the Chicago Blackhawks have a league-high 3 Stanley Cups in the salary cap era. Unlike the Pens, they’re no longer going strong. Chicago lost 6-1 to worst in the league Arizona last night and at just a 24-24-8 record, the Blackhawks are all but assured of missing the playoffs this year. With the age of their core and a litany of bad contracts, who knows how long it will be before they are championship contenders again but their “good old days” all seem like they’re in the rear-view mirror with this group who hasn’t won a playoff series since winning the Cup in 2015.
Similarly, the New York Rangers have fallen on tough times and are about to undergo a major overhaul. While this group didn’t win the Cup, they are among the best and most consistent teams of the past decade with Blueshirt Banter recently summarizing achievements in the Henrik Lundqvist-era as:
Of course, there were also many great moments as well. Two finishes on top of the East, including a Presidents’ Trophy. Eleven playoff series won; one over the Devils, one over the Flyers, and
onetwo over the Penguins. Three trips to the Conference Final. A game won in the Stanley Cup Final on Garden ice.
With impending trades that group is going to be largely scrapped and restarted. This next sequence gave some flashbacks-
While nobody wants their team to lose or be bad, there is an intrinsic duality to sports. There is purpose in struggle, and it takes some dark moments to truly appreciate when good ones come along. I appreciate this era of Rangers hockey that is coming to a close because I know what it is like to stare into the abyss. The Dark Ages, as the 1998-2004 era is labeled, is just one of many tough periods for fans far older than I am.
Prior to the salary cap and the unknown arena situation, the Penguins had a lot of the same “Dark Age” period from 2001 to as deep as 2007 really (when Mario Lemieux finally was able to wrangle a new arena agreement). During that period and especially towards the beginning of it before Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh fans never really knew how or if the Pens would even survive in the ‘Burgh. We lived and watched star players (and almost anyone worth having, really) like Jaromir Jagr and Alex Kovalev and Marty Straka be sold off for financial survival. We saw the Pens serve as merely a punching bag in the pre-salary cap days for clubs with bigger budgets. While they operated in an arena so old the lights would embarassingly short-circuit out during games. It seemed only a dream to ever be the class of the league again like in the early ‘90s when Lemieux put Pittsburgh hockey truly on the map.
All of that seems like a lifetime ago, and while Penguins fans at least won’t have to wonder about the stability of the club, it won’t always be such happy days, as Blackhawk and Ranger fans are realizing now.
It also goes to show just how fleeting NHL success can be. We all know that Carolina is trying desperately to claw into the playoffs for the first time since they got Geno-bounced out in 2009. The Red Wings were dynastic but the last moment they were in a Stanley Cup Final was when Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Nick Lidstrom, also in ‘09. Detroit’s about to miss the playoffs for a second straight year, with not much real hope to be a contender anytime soon. Saying this isn’t meant to rub it in for opposing fanbases as much as it is to point out that Pittsburgh fans have been blessed with a lifetime of hockey memories even in the last few years that most teams can only dream of while they’re out in the desert.
So as the Pens are 12-4-1 in calendar 2018 and looking to regain form for a 12th straight playoff run and attempt make an unbelievable 3rd straight Cup run, take a moment to bask in it. These days seem like they are bound to continue indefinetly, but sports are cyclical and no one will stay at the top indefinitely.
The Pens aren’t quite at that point yet, but it’s never too much to take a quiet moment of appreciation and to consciously realize and enjoy a great team at the height of their glory. As New York and Chicago fans know all too well, sometimes as fans the good old days for your favorite team will suddenly end before you even realize it.