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Molinari: ‘Pigeon’ Logo Awful … But Penguins Have Done Worse



Pittsburgh Penguins pigeon logo

Bringing back their pigeon logo from the 1990s, as the Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly are considering, wouldn’t be the biggest mistake in franchise history.

Wouldn’t even be a medalist, for that matter.

But that says a whole lot more about the magnitude of some of the other blunders the Penguins have made over their five-plus decades than it does about any merits of resurrecting the pigeon logo on a reverse-retro sweater.

Merits which, at last count, added up to oh, roughly zero. Maybe less.

Admittedly, any Penguins partisans that hang out on statues and scavenge meals from good scraps found on sidewalks might feel differently, but the best thing about that crest was that the team abandoned it as its primary logo about two decades ago.

It was introduced as a money-making venture during Howard Baldwin’s tenure as owner — hey, how can you call yourself a real fan if you’re not wearing the latest iteration of its sweater? — and received generally, uh, mixed reviews. Which is a delicate way to express that many fans hated it.

And while the belief here is that the pigeon crest should never again appear on their sweater, there also are other things the Pittsburgh Penguins have done in the past that should not be repeated under any circumstances.

For starters, they should not:

1. Have a live mascot

Early in the franchise’s existence, when it was one of the league’s least-successful expansion teams, the Penguins tried to attract fans by having a live mascot, a Humboldt penguin from what was then known as the Highland Park Zoo.

He was cute. He had a specially designed pair of skates, and had been trained to use them. He was well-received by what passed for crowds at the Civic Arena.

Until he died of pneumonia.

It was sad. It was tragic. And it was a pretty good portent of what the Penguins could experience over the next few decades.

2. Bludgeon fans with music

Too late to fix this, probably. The norm in NHL arenas now is to play music at levels that register on seismographs across North America.

Perhaps club officials have decided that many of their patrons are hard of hearing, Or are intent on making them that way.

There was a time when organ music prevailed — Vince Lascheid, longtime organist for the Penguins and Pirates, was enormously popular, in part because of his gift for picking a song that fit any game situation — but it has largely gone the way of wooden sticks.

And it’s hard to see how any of us are better for it.

3. Hire a coach who barely speaks English

The world is full of high-quality coaches who don’t have English as their first language.

The Pittsburgh Penguins just don’t have a very good track record for finding them.

They’ve had two who brought impeccable credentials to the organization — Pierre Creamer was coach of Montreal’s top farm team at a time when the Canadiens were one of the NHL’s best-run operations and Ivan Hlinka had been an accomplished NHL player and was highly regarded for his coaching on the international level — but were abject failures with the Penguins.

Creamer is best-remembered as the guy who didn’t realize the Penguins had to win their final game in the 1987-88 season to remain in playoff contention (happily for the team, his players did, and Mario Lemieux scored in overtime), while the most enduring memory of Hlinka was his habit of sneaking a cigarette at every opportunity.

Now, having a good command of English doesn’t guarantee success — the Penguins’ bench has been run by some guys who spoke the language much better than they coached — but the misadventures of Creamer and Hlinka suggest that it’s a good place to start.

4. Forget to check the spelling on trade target’s surname

The story may or may not be rooted in reality, but either way, it does a nice job of illustrating the state of the franchise in the early 1980’s.

Then-GM Baz Bastien sent the Penguins’ 1981 first-round draft choice, which proved to be No. 7 overall, to Montreal for forward Rod Schutt.

Whispers at the time, however, suggested that Bastien thought he was acquiring Steve Shutt.

The difference is a lot more than one consonant.

Shutt played 13 seasons in the NHL and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame after putting up 424 goals and 393 assists, nearly all of those with the Canadiens.

Schutt finished with 77 goals and 92 assists and, if he ever was in the Hall of Fame, presumably had to buy a ticket.

Not a bad career, of course, but not the kind anyone would confuse with that of a top-level winger. Like, say, Steve Shutt.

5. Be forced into bankruptcy

The second go-round ultimately turned out OK — a few years after Lemieux got control of the franchise, he added billionaire Ron Burkle to the ownership group and the Pittsburgh Penguins had the financial resources needed to assemble and maintain a competitive team — but only after the club endured some difficult seasons.

The first bankruptcy, in 1975, was more of an existential threat, as the club’s offices at the Civic Arena were padlocked not long after the Penguins became the second team in NHL history to squander a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven playoff series.

The franchise survived but subsequently endured numerous relocation rumors and dismal seasons before Lemieux arrived in 1984 to save it. For the first time.

With Fenway Sports Group in control, bankruptcy shouldn’t be a concern for a long, long time, if ever. Especially now that the NHL actually vets prospective owners to make sure they have the wherewithal to run a competitive operation.

And to do it without relying on revenues generated by introducing a pigeon logo.