Writing it still doesn’t have it make sense. A week ago this morning the hockey world was getting pumped up for the start of the playoffs. Pittsburgh fans have been almost preconditioned for long runs in this era.
And just like that, the 2019 playoffs are over, seemingly before they began. It’s a wild turn of events, but a reminder that sometimes life comes at you fast. This isn’t a video game where you can play on easy and win the Stanley Cup every year, it’s a league full of parity and good teams. (Just ask the folks down in Tampa, eh?).
Overall though, as our own Mike Darnay tracks, the Pens have had their share of success in the salary cap era.
Add in three Stanley Cups in the past decade and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company have provided more sports joy in recent memory than some 80-year old fans for other teams and sports have ever seen in their entire lifetimes.
So on this stunning morning there’s something for everyone. Hot takes on trade this player, trade that player. Fire this guy, fire that guy. Existential questions on if the Pens will ever be a force again, if they’ve lost what they had to make them special and whether or not they can even get back to that level.
There’s probably a time and place for all that, and an appetite for it too, because we live in an outrage culture. Blame must be assigned and divvied up. This player wasn’t hungry enough, this guy sucked, that guy should have been better. The coach didn’t make all the good decisions that are so obvious on the internet, the manager’s plan didn’t work, the players didn’t execute. It’s all (insert name of player, coach, manager, owner, beer vendor)’s fault.
And maybe it is. And maybe I’ve just gotten older but this morning I’m not feeling a lot of outrage. Sure I would have loved to see the Pens make another run. Crosby and Malkin only have so many years left and it’s fun to enjoy what we have. But we’ve already gotten so much, and that’s enjoyable too.
I remember in the 2003-04 season when the Penguins went through an 0-17-1 stretch (with that one being an overtime loss). They were lovable losers that tried hard, but they were still totally pathetic on and off the ice. They had long since traded off all their best players for no value to shed payroll, and Mario Lemieux was barely holding on and a shell of what he once was as a younger, healthier player. The league had no salary cap and teams like Detroit, Toronto and New York had payrolls two or three times bigger than Pittsburgh.
For all the world it felt like the Pens would never ever be relevant again in the NHL. That they would never compete or be a factor. Hell, no one even was sure the team would have roots in Pittsburgh for too much longer back then.
That’s kind of what I thought of this morning. Pens fans have a team that IS a factor every single year. It doesn’t always go their way, but they matter. They’re rooted in Pittsburgh for good with a great arena. They have Crosby and Malkin to watch every game, and they’ve provided so much more success over the years than anyone could have hoped for in brief but very dark days the franchise went through.
It sucks the Pens lost to the Islanders, and they do need to do some soul searching and make some tough decisions on how to best position themselves moving forward. On a day like this, though, do yourself a favor and take a deep breath and realize how much the team has accomplished and that there’s only so much whining you can do following all this success and recent championships before looking petulant and ungrateful. Even on the morning of elimination, there’s still a lot to be proud of.