Some pretty significant news on Tuesday as it was revealed that the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the verge of being sold to the Fenway Sports Group, which would add them to the sports conglomerate alongside the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC.
While Mario Lemieux is expected to retain a role in the ownership group, it would still mark the end of what has been the most successful era in the history of the franchise. We already knew changes were going to be on the horizon over the next few seasons. There have already been major changes in the front office with Ron Hextall and Brian Burke coming into replace Jim Rutherford, while the core of the team (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang) is getting closer to retirement age.
At some point you had to think an ownership change would be a possibility, but maybe not this soon.
So let us assume this sale gets completed at some point, what does that mean for the short-term and long-term outlook for the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Based on nothing more than initial reactions, this is probably the best possible outcome if a sale is going to take place. Not only does it appear that Lemieux will continue to have a role with the Penguins, continuing the one constant since the mid-1980s, but the Fenway Sports Group is also full of people with deep pockets. Their teams also win. A lot. The Boston Red Sox have been a championship level team over the past 15 years, while Liverpool FC has become one of the powerhouse teams in English and European Soccer.
It also stands to reason, based on what we know of the way the Red Sox and Liverpool have been built, that there could be a push for more analytics within the Penguins front office as the Red Sox and Liverpool have been at the forefront of advancements in that area in their respective sports.
The NHL might be able to cap player salaries, but it does not cap behind the scenes investments like that.
But it does all make you wonder what it means for the overall construction of the team, who stays, and who goes.
At the end of the day sports conglomerates are still sports conglomerates and they tend to operate as bottom line businesses without much emotion or loyalty. As long as Lemieux was the sole central figure in charge of the Penguins there was always a belief — or an assumption — that players like Crosby, Malkin, and Letang would finish their careers in Pittsburgh and retire as Penguins.
Maybe that still happens, especially if Lemieux maintains a presence and has some sort of a say in how the team is built and operates. But something to keep in mind here is the Red Sox willingly traded away Mookie Betts, arguably one of the top-three players in baseball in the absolute prime of his career, rather than pay him what he wanted. If the Red Sox can trade Mookie Betts over something like that, you can be damn sure Malkin or Letang could be playing for somebody else. They have no loyalty to past Penguins teams here or these players. This potential ownership group was not a part of three Stanley Cup winning teams here. This is an investment. An asset. It will probably be operated as such.
Again, given the success of FSG’s teams in other sports, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. All sports fans care about is their team winning, regardless of who actually wears the uniform. Even the Red Sox returned to being contenders just a year after trading Betts they appeared in the American League Championship Series.
That pretty much is going to be the deciding factor in what this all means and how it is received by Penguins fans. Does a new ownership group respect the traditions and history of the team, and will it make the right investments in the team behind the scenes (analytics, other investments?) and spend to the salary cap in an effort to win.
If those things happen, and the team continues to make efforts to remain competitive and then remains competitive, that is all anybody is going to care about.
Recent history suggests that should happen with this group.