Hope is not a strategy. Just as fan expectations which rise to the level of assumption is empty. Believe it or not, the regular season matters. And, is worth paying attention.
The NHL season, which lasts nine months from first puck drop to hostile fans booing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as he presents the Stanley Cup, is a figurative roller coaster. Injuries, adversity, emotional battles, and roster drama await every championship hopeful. More than just the playoffs matter.
Many fans have certainly written off the regular season as a perfunctory annoyance en route to the Penguins sixth Stanley Cup coronation and third consecutive. Most analysis of this current team is met with a healthy (and really annoying) dose of “It’s early season”, “They’ve won two straight Stanley Cups, they’ll be fine when it matters,” and a personal favorite, “Phil Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup champion”.
Sorry, if winning multiple Cups were the only qualification to winning the next Cup, the Philadelphia Flyers would be on their 42nd straight Cup.
If that were true to a championship level, it seems the Penguins would have won a few more Stanley Cups between 2009 and 2016.
Unfortunately, the Penguins are currently dealing with those shortcomings. They’ve scored just one goal in regulation six times over the past eight games. The road trip, after Mike Sullivan challenged his team, ended with a 1-3-1 record.
The organization used the offseason to say many goodbyes but not enough hellos to established solutions.
New Regular Season?
Our friend and evening host at 93-7 the Fan, Paul Zeise, was the first to use the phrase, “Hope is not a strategy”.
For teams, the regular season is both a training and proving ground, regardless of past success. The Penguins organization has been in this situation twice before (we’ll count 2008 as the Penguins played in the final game that season, even if the Cup was not handed to Sidney Crosby).
On each occasion, hubris or expectation was an obstacle as great or greater than the opponent. The 1993 Penguins spent a lot of energy on a 17 game win streak to end the season and then didn’t take the New York Islanders seriously. The far less talented 2010 Montreal Canadiens ended the Penguins run to multiple Cups.
Why bring up those heartbreaks?
Because every season is new. Every season, the roller coaster pulls into the platform and begins the ride again.
The Penguins have work to do on their roster. They have to find a new identity. And they have to find their stride after they complete the former and the latter.
Fans, by putting a pair of Stanley Cup rings in their ears, are missing the fun part of the journey and denying themselves the natural ups and downs of the season which makes the ending either painful or wholly satisfying.
“It’s early, wait for the playoffs!” is an attitude akin to turning to the end of the book, or paying for a movie ticket but only watching the last 10 minutes.
If you miss the ride, the ending just doesn’t mean as much. So, it’s time for everyone to put down the “Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion” book. Instead, it’s time to enjoy the new season
..and, if you must, begin discussing how the Penguins can make Phil Kessel a 3-time Stanley Cup champion.