The Pittsburgh Penguins will lose something this season. Teams across the NHL have decided not dealing with the Penguins is preferable to helping the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions to improve. So, the Penguins will likely lose a trade for a third line center, they will lose a fan favorite like Jake Guentzel in that deal, or the Penguins will lose in the playoffs, assuming they make the postseason.
Is Pittsburgh prepared for any of that?
It’s a funny thing about the Penguins fan base. Beginning with Mario Lemieux, individual players were marketed as hockey, more so than the game itself. In fact, fans over 35-years-old may remember “Double Trouble.” The Penguins talented players were given double numbers, like Lemieux (John Cullen #11, Zarley Zalapski #33, Robby Brown #44, Larry Murphy #55, Lemieux #66, and Paul Coffey #77).
It was about the players, not the game.
The trend has continued for more than 25 years. From Lemieux to Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev and finally to this generation with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang, the core players even have ardent fans who occasionally war with each other. In Pittsburgh, importance is often about the name on the back of the sweater, not the crest on the front.
Will fans accept parting with a popular player like Guentzel if it means a better chance at the Stanley Cup?
A few weeks ago, a trusted source told Pittsburgh Hockey Now the Penguins could part with a young winger. The source specifically mentioned Conor Sheary, Daniel Sprong, and Guentzel because they have a surplus on the flanks.
So, how about it? Would you part with “your” player for a better chance at the Stanley Cup? Or are you already writing in the comments section that the Penguins could never get better by trading one of those players?
Tough Go for Pittsburgh
Penguins fans may look with pity upon Pirates fans, who have annually said goodbye to fan favorites for 25 years but rarely received a chance at glory in return.
It’s been 15 years since Penguins fans watched their heroes shipped away for a bag of pucks or anything less than a chance to get better. Even so, several trades lived in infamy, not for their failure but the personalities involved.
The 2014 trade, James Neal for Patric Hornqvist, for starters.
Neal was a fan favorite, but perhaps not the best player or presence to propel the Penguins forward. Even into last season, the “debate” would erupt on social media and the blogosphere: Did the Penguins win the Neal trade? Large numbers of fans still lamented Neal’s departure, even after Hornqvist proved his worth.
Player loyalty over team betterment.
What if the Penguins met the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup–Where would your loyalty rest?
Personality or team?
The Game, the Cup
With Jaromir Jagr’s final exit from the NHL, perhaps it’s time for Pittsburgh to also take the next step, too; worry less about jersey numbers and more about banners in the rafters. Worry more about Stanley Cups and less about nameplates.
Sucess has lived in the Pittsburgh for nearly three decades. The unprecedented run of watching the greatest player in the world, every night, will someday end. And then what?
If it takes saying goodbye to Guentzel or Sprong for another banner in the rafters, that should be a trade which excites Penguins fans. Six, now seven teams across Canada have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993. It’s hard to imagine much angst if those teams sacrificed a player who sells jerseys for a player who wins.
It could be worse. The Penguins could trade franchise cornerstones for a few medium range prospects and secondary players despite having the core of a contender. Instead, Penguins fans have yet another fantastic opportunity to make history.
The opportunity also exists to grow past the exciting beginning of hockey fandom and evolve into a self-sustaining tribe more concerned about the game and franchise success.
So, what would you trade for a Stanley Cup?