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Kingerski: Penguins Fans, Do You Want Your Player or a Championship?

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Pittsburgh fans are unique. This small town has a lot of people, neighborhoods and ethnic influences but is at heart a small Appalachian town. Personal relationships and loyalties are important here as personified by the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty which allowed players to hang around a year too long instead of a year too little. Pittsburgh has a connection to its favorite athletes and Pittsburgh Penguins fans have long been even more loyal.

But now the question must be asked: Do you want your favorite player, or do you want a chance at more championships?

The Pittsburgh Penguins were once a “non-traditional” market. Hockey didn’t do so well in Pittsburgh and the organization declared bankruptcy twice (1975, 1998) and has been sold six times including the bankruptcy rescues.

Like non-traditional markets today, a long time ago the Penguins resorted to marketing things other than hockey to stay afloat. Players became the thing. First, there was Mario Lemieux but not much else and the Penguins were sold to their audience that way. As the Penguins eventually added talent via the deft hands and dealing of GM Craig Patrick, the fanbase expanded to include players like Kevin Stevens, Mark Recchi, Paul Coffey and more.

But hockey wasn’t ever the main focus. It was the players. And it was winning which kept the ticket buyers and viewers happy.

Fan attachment to Jaromir Jagr couldn’t keep fans in the building and the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1998.

And 30 years after the arrival of Lemieux, Penguins fans were treated to another crop of player/celebrities including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, and even Jordan Staal was included in that crew.

Fans picked their boys and the Penguins paid off like a hot slot machine. By Crosby’s third year, the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final. In the fourth year, they won it.

But a funny thing happened. In the success, factions formed. Penguins fans became Crosby fans, Malkin fans, Fleury fans, Fleury bashers, and they fought with each other. Being Penguins fans often seemed secondary.

Phil Kessel has been added to the list with a fervent fan base like no other. The game has never been front and center, nor the team. It has been about the name on the back of the jersey.

Maybe it is time hockey should be the featured attraction?

The Penguins are asking themselves the same question which I pose to you. Do you want your favorite players or do you want a greater chance at winning for a longer period of time? Lemieux who was both the first object of modern Penguins fandom and one of the creators of the player-driven culture is reportedly not keen on dealing star players.

The Penguins culture is about star power and star players. Someday, sometime, hockey should take front and center, yes?

Like Coffey, Recchi, Stevens, Jagr, Staal, and Fleury, eventually even Crosby and Malkin will be gone. The odds of getting another crop of stars are small. The odds of getting another transformative player who is the face of the game is even smaller.

The Penguins and fans unexpectedly find themselves at a crossroads. If not this season, then soon. They will be forced to offer hockey to the masses without the aid of a Hall of Fame crew. There are always free agents with big names available which the Penguins could chase to keep up the name value, but that doesn’t seem to be a strategy for building a team. Ask the former New York Strangers.

As the paying public, you have every right to demand big ticket items and names on the back of the jersey which you will pay to see. Or you can demand a good hockey team. If not now, then soon enough that choice will be one or the other.

So, which do you want?

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Ricardo58
Ricardo58
2 years ago

Well said. I cheer for the player in the jersey. I greatly respect the game of 87. If by chance 87 would be in a different jersey, it is still go Pens! Same for the Olympics. I root for the guys in the USA jerseys. To each their own.

BIG B
BIG B
2 years ago

Everybody in every fan base cheers for the players and the team and Pitt is no different.Dan when is the next podcast?

Kim Dunning
Kim Dunning
2 years ago

Interesting I’d like a good hockey team but if you think that comes with Sullivan and Rutherford at the helm you are sorely mistaken.

RobertU
RobertU
2 years ago
Reply to  Kim Dunning

Sorry, but if you think Sullivan is not an elite coach, then you are out of touch with reality and your comments do not have value.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
2 years ago
Reply to  Kim Dunning

I somewhat agree – allot of this falls on the GM – why is he not under the microscope – a big part of this teams failures is on him making bad personnel moves, yet folks say he won us two cups – well so did the guys that are mentioned in these trade rumors. Now you are gonna trust him to make a big trade – it’s not something i would do if it were my business – you can see this going downhill from a mile away, yet the media narrative is to jump on a few guys.… Read more »

Bob
Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Kim Dunning

I think it’s time to remove Sullivan as coach and keep the core together. This team really did not play well down the stretch, if it wasn’t for Matt Murray they would of never got in the playoffs. You could just tell something wasn’t right. Sullivan maybe an elite coach, but I think his message has worn out

Edgar
Edgar
2 years ago

I have to admit, Dan, I’m not exactly sure what case you’re trying to make these past few days. I think you need to have an article and come out and say it. Which players have hurt the team by “not buying in”. Which players need to be extracted. With Malkin, any deal makes us less talented from the start. Are you saying we need to re-tool for a year or two? Or some players just don’t possess the proper attitude going forward? It’s hard to discuss with so much innuendo. I’m not even saying I disagree with you, but… Read more »

Edgar
Edgar
2 years ago

Ha! yes, I’ve noticed you hadn’t made a case yet!! And, honestly, It HAD to be on purpose, (or else you would have made one, right??)
I appreciate this because where I am is that I’m a huge Pens fan. Been one since ’73. Long, long time. But, I don’t watch as close as I used to. And I don’t watch other teams much anymore. So, I need info like this. And, yes, I am enjoying you laying it out this way. Thanks. (Obviously, I’m intrigued!)

Il'ja
2 years ago

Funny thing about native Russian-speakers is that they use a lot of reflexive/passive constructions in their speech. When #71 (whose English is challenged) says the other day “nobody respects us” he was (and had he said it in Russian it would have been crystal clear) “we aren’t to be respected”. He was including himself as somebody whose lost faith in the name on the front of the sweater. In some ways, #71 is your perfect Pens fan – dedicated to “player x”. However, I’m not saying Geno must go, also, oddly, because he’s Russian. He’s genetically constructed to be a… Read more »

Il'ja
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Thanks. Re-reading it, I could have been clearer re #71’s motives. In his VERY Russian way of looking at it, he understands that Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins is much more prestigious than Evgeni Malkin, San Jose Sharks or Evegni Malkin, Edmonton Oilers, and he likely will decide he wants it to stay that way. He’s a Russian, he’s drunk on prestige. Vladimir Putin, President of Latvia just doesn’t have the punch of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, does it? Geno is what he is; he has honest possession of that Russian ‘monumentalist gene’ “I’m building a monument to myself” (obscure… Read more »

JICS
JICS
2 years ago
Reply to  Il'ja

Il’ja, I agree with you, but that is pitiful. We have a big problem if we keep Malkin!

Il'ja
2 years ago
Reply to  JICS

Hey, JICS, I feel your pain. And it might be pitiful but still, I think it’s way too early to say ‘let’s trade #71 and get a good haul’. I think that because a)Geno is still one of the best hockey players on the planet and b)he’s a grown-up, fully capable of altering his game to fit the team’s needs if approached the right way. The Pens FO, if they’re smart – and I think they are – will make just that case to him. And they’ll point to “the Hated 8”, Ovi, as Exhibit A. The rivalry between #71… Read more »

Edgar
Edgar
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I kind of felt this way when Mario started. They asked him pointed questions about how good he was, and it was hard for him to answer with nuance. So, he sounded a bit more cocky than he would have liked, I’m sure.

RobertU
RobertU
2 years ago

This is the main issue with the Pens’ fanbase and why I usually refer to them as “fans” in my comments. Many are not fans of the team, but fans of a cult of personality of one or two players. That’s an error. Players come and go. The team is the key. To those who say the Pens would be less “talented” I say: who had more “talent,” the Pens or the Isles? Who had more talent, the Caps or the Canes? Who had more talent, Tampa or CBJ? What superstars are left in the playoffs this year? Where is… Read more »

BIG B
BIG B
2 years ago

What i don’t understand is this church of Kessel. Sure he has talent but every time he is asked about being traded he basicly says he does not care and this should be a slap to the chops of his supporters.These Kesseltics give him their heart and soul and he gives no love in return.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
2 years ago

Dan – so by trading 71 – this guarantees the Penguins with a Championship? They are not close to the elite in the conference, a good team but allot of holes that one trade cannot fix – you def check out the market for him, but you better be right -cause this will crush this team if its wrong – you willing to take that chance?

Dustin Scott
Dustin Scott
2 years ago

I don’t know why you want to frame it as the two things being mutually exclusive. The Pens can keep these mystery players (we all know who you are alluding to so just come out and say it) AND win another championship. I would argue that the only way they win another championship is to keep all of Letang, Malkin, Kessel

Dustin Scott
Dustin Scott
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

They were swept in the playoffs before and that didn’t stop them from winning B2B a few years ago. You have to ride out this core until its painfully obvious its over. Then you tank and start over. Look what happened to Chicago when they traded Panarin for Saad. They haven’t been back to the playoffs since. You just are not going to replace that kind of production. The team just needs changes around the edges of the roster and come back next year with a determined attitude. Tampa just got swept too, should they get rid of Stamkos?

Edgar
Edgar
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

That’s the issue. How do you get better in the short term? Which is why-well one reason of many-I’m so annoyed at Rutherford. He boxed himself in a corner and now he’s screwed.

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