You’ve been telling me, but not in so many words. Some of you have been yelling it, actually, but the words belied the meaning. Most fanbases in the NHL would kick you for the sentiment, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and everything comes to an end. Even the Pittsburgh Penguins run with the most talented players on the planet comes to an end.
It surely seems many of you are ready to move on, consequences be damned.
From emails, replies, and comments, Penguins fans are tired. The interest level is declining. Imagine a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang with waning interest. Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening.
No one is accusing Penguins fans of checking out. Pittsburgh has the highest TV ratings of any NHL or NBA market. Penguins fans sell out PPG Paints Arena as well as turn on the television, but your heart is broken.
Hope seems to be lost.
“And how about last year? And the year before? Don’t take solace in that–it’s only a way to rationalize failure,” one of our comments read.
I get a dozen or more per day. Or another:
“It’s just frustrating watching the Pens get ousted early, and venting helps especially when I read other Pen fans feel the same way…Dan does his best I just don’t like that sometimes he’ll call us kids, and we know it’s because we sound like it when we want to start from scratch–but if next year we start winning all will be forgotten.”
Well, first, “kids” is a term of endearment. Some folks get so touchy. Boys, kids, youngin’s, folks, are all the same.
Second, that winning feeling is gone from the fan base. Despite the most logical arguments that it doesn’t matter when the rebuild begins, it will hurt for a while, the consensus is to start now.
I can point to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit, which are still in the midst of trying to figure it out and have playoff droughts since their last Stanley Cups (2020 Qualifying Round inclusions notwithstanding).
And I can point out that losing is most likely what awaits the Pittsburgh Penguins beyond the Malkin-Letang roster. If the Penguins can delay that skid by taking another and yet another shot with Crosby-Malkin-Letang and making the playoffs, isn’t it better than the tundra of losing?
The popular sentiment among fans is: No.
And I get it now. Being right or logical is less important. It’s like a relationship that has run its course. The end is within sight, and you’re anxious to see what comes next.
You want some strange.
You want to root for mediocre players who are new and getting a chance to establish themselves as productive NHLers. You’d like to get behind the underdogs again.
I must admit, those 7,000-11,000 fans who showed up for the 2003-2005 Penguins at the old Civic Arena were the most joyous fans outside of the early 1990s and 2008-2009 crews.
Fans found a way to enjoy the rosters with Dick Tarnstrom, Guillaume Lefebvre, Ramsi Abid, and Ryan Malone. Only Malone was a legit NHL player, but the smaller Penguins fan base rallied around them.
But there were a lot less of you, too.
It surely seems lots you want to go back there. You’re done with the superstars and disappointment. And no promise that it could be better next season quells the desire to get new blood, even if it’s not as good.
Have I got it?
Some of you expect the Penguins to find new superstars to lead the team back to June hockey tomorrow. Let me caution, that’s just not going to happen. Unless Jack Eichel decides he wants to play for the Penguins and no one else, and by some miracle, Buffalo accepts a lowball offer, the rebuild will be brutal.
Perhaps general manager Ron Hextall will add friends around Sidney Crosby to make the descent more palatable, the way Craig Patrick did for Mario Lemieux?
It took six years of first-round picks and four top-two overall picks to build the Penguins’ latest championship era. Beginning with Brooks Orpik in 2001 as a later first-rounder, then Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall), Evgeni Malkin (2nd overall), Sidney Crosby (1st overall), and Jordan Stall (2nd overall), the Penguins stockpiled brilliant talent by losing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hit a paystreak at the right time. It doesn’t always work out that way. Ask the Edmonton Oilers who snagged a lineup of lottery picks for a decade that didn’t work out–including Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, and Ryan Nugent Hopkins–until Connor McDavid finally brought success to Edmonton.
Even so, the 2020-21 Edmonton Oilers made only their second playoff appearance since 2005-06 (again, Qualifying Round notwithstanding).
But you want those new relationship jitters, the excitement, and possibilities. You know how the rest of this plays out, right?
Just a reminder kids, be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.