On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates ended their miserable 20-year losing streak. Reading the emotional recap from WHYGAVS and the documented failures from Deadspin reminded us of when the Penguins rose from the ashes in 2007 after a five-year tailspin.
The feeling around the Penguins in 2007 when they clinched was similar to what we are seeing now with the Pirates, except it was a longer streak of futility and the fact that the Pirates haven't even clinched a playoff berth yet. The core emotion is still there, though. There is nothing like sticking with a team and seeing it become a winner. It is a payoff that has unlimited value. It unites cities.
Amidst the excitement we felt Monday night, we were wondering, with Pens training camp a couple of days away, why we still weren't feeling that annual September itch for hockey to return. We've been talking about this with a lot of people, and the majority of them are feeling the same way. It's really puzzling. So we decided to brainstorm a little here. We don't really come to a conclusion, but we're just wondering how many other people are also feeling meh about the upcoming season.
The Five-Year Grace Period
The Penguins followed up that unreal 2006-2007 season with a Stanley Cup appearance and then won the whole thing in 2009. The Cup elevated (or returned) the Penguins franchise to the elite level.
We grew up reading Bill Simmons, and this sentence about sports in the salary-cap era has always resonated with us:
After your team wins a championship, they immediately get a five-year grace period: You can't complain about anything that happens with your team (trades, draft picks, salary-cap cuts, coaching moves) for five years
It's hard to not complain about anything, but this is a good rule. We talked last year on here a little bit about how we've lowered our expectations of the Penguins, which has made watching games and following a season much more enjoyable. Maybe that complacency is starting to make us apathetic.
After four straight playoff losses, the joy we had watching the Penguins hoist the Cup is all but a distance memory. The horrors of Game 7 losses on home ice, blown series leads, overachieving opponents, underachieving Pens teams, and complete and utter meltdowns have taken over everything.
To make it clear, we are looking forward to the NHL season. We are looking forward to watching the Pens again. But the feeling isn't as strong as it's been in recent years. It probably has something to do with how the last two Pens' seasons have ended. They didn't lose two hard-fought seven-game series. They got stomped by the Flyers in 2012. And then, after the Pens went completely all-in on the Cup last season, the same thing happened against the Bruins. It wasn't a stomping, but to see a completely different team show up when the lights came on was just deflating. 2 goals in 275 minutes of hockey in the Eastern Conference Finals. woof.
"oh hey Kris…"
We caught up on Breaking Bad this summer, and one of our favorite quotes came from Gus Fring when he said, "You can never make the same mistake twice, because the second time you make it, it becomes a choice."
And that rings true here. Two straight years the Penguins have made the same mistakes. And you could even say, as fans, we have made the same mistakes, thinking something was going to change when the playoffs rolled around. Take a good look back at that first-round series against the Islanders, and the Pens were a bounce or two away from being in some serious trouble.
Top six villain, by the way.
And there was no change made…
At the time, we understood the move Ray Shero made in keeping Dan Bylsma, because honestly we thought we would get past it. September is upon us, and that nagging feeling about Bylsma's recent post-season results are flooding back to us. On that same token, why shouldn't we be excited about basically the same team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last year? Again, we have no clue why.
This is where the Penguins fan alliance gets jammed
Here is the FAQ you hear (and we've heard) when voicing concern or apathy about this upcoming season.
Q. Do you realize how spoiled Penguins fans are?
A. Don't care.
Q. I would take this Pens team every year.
A. Yep. It looks like it's gonna be a good team to watch this season.
Q. You can't blame Bylsma for not adjusting or blame him in general.
A. Wrong. Any coach could lead this team to 40-plus wins in the regular season.
Q. You just hate the Penguins.
Q. Why aren't you excited again?
A. We don't know.
The reason for hope
We're not exactly pumped, but there is reason for excitement, 1 and 1A being Crosby and Malkin. Watch the two best players in hockey ain't nothing to bitch about. The only storylines are which defensemen are gonna see the ice and what Beau Bennet can do. And then there's the topic of whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury has straightened his shit out. We won't know the true answer to the MAF question until April comes around, and it makes us cringe even thinking about it.
The real reason for some hope is the defending champion Blackhawks. Someone mentioned this a few days ago on Twitter, and it got our attention. The Blackhawks were in a similar situation two off-seasons ago. After getting beat in the first round of the playoffs, they doubled down and stuck with same coaches, players. It worked. They dominated all season and went on to win the Cup.
That is the gamble Ray Shero is taking.
We can't stress it enough: we are excited about the upcoming season, but it's not the fever pitch we've felt in recent years. This isn't us channeling Randy Quaid from Major League, shitting on the Penguins and predicting they're gonna blow. They're three months removed from the Eastern Conference Finals, and basically the same team is returning (Iginla doesn't count because the future Hall of Famer wasn't even allowed to play on his usual wing).
We're going to eventually come around. The Pens are probably gonna win their first 20 games or some shit. If we had to set a date on when we anticipate our usual fire burning again, though, we'll pick October 17th when the Pens head into Philly.