Are the Pittsburgh Penguins truly hungry enough for another Stanley Cup? If they are, do they have the legs for an unprecedented third act to their championship arc? These questions have pinged around my brain for a couple of years. The rise and fall of championship teams in the NHL’s salary cap era are far different than teams in the golden age of expansion or the dynastic offensive salad days of the 1980s.
Experience used to matter. It mattered far more than it does now when 20-something kids dominate the league. Previously, upstart kids were quickly bounced from the playoffs until they were veterans, and then multiple or successive Stanley Cup championships were possible.
“When players, coaches, and teams have the opportunity to go through the challenges of a Stanley Cup playoff run and experience the successes of a championship run, but also the hard aspect of it when you don’t have success, and you lose, it offers you a certain perspective,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “You have the benefit of those experiences to draw on if certain instances arise…”
No team in the salary cap era had won back-to-back championships until the 2016 and 2017 Penguins. Certainly, no team in the salary cap era has had a second act, though, for the Penguins core who won their first Cup in 2009, another championship run would be an unparalleled third act.
But I can’t help but wonder if that “certain perspective” is as detrimental to winning as the experience is helpful? Recent history offers a few examples and what is possible.