June 26, 2009 Penguins mania pushes
[CHICAGO, IL] -- Stop. Zip it. Don't
Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins have claimed their first Stanley Cup in
the Sidney Crosby era, but before we anoint them as the next
great NHL dynasty, let's see how this plays out first.
salary-cap age, there are too many things that sabotage the kind of
run that the Edmonton Oilers had two decades ago. Until Crosby and
company hoist at least two more Stanley Cups in the next few years,
the dynasty talk is just that - talk.
As for the best hockey town in the United States, well, let's pass the
torch right here, right now.
So long, Hockeytown, Michigan. Hello, Pucksburgh, Pennsylvania.
Detroit was worthy recipient of the title over the years, but no city
in the US of A deserves it more than the Pittsburgh now. In the
Penguins, the 'Burgh has a talented young team with a steely revolve
whose best days are ahead of it, one that plays in a town that has
been puck nuts for years, win or lose. In Ray Shero, it has an astute,
aggressive general manager with championship genes. In Mario Lemieux,
it has a team owner with a Hall of Fame presence. In two seasons, the
team also will have its own state-of-the-art arena.
(Ground control to Marian Hossa: When you turned down a chance to play
with these guys for five seasons, just what were you thinking?)
Thatís not to say that the Red Wings will fall over a cliff any time
soon. The organ-i-zation has too much depth and pride and smarts for
that to happen.
Nonetheless, thereís a reason to think that the glory days are behind
the Red Wings for awhile. Team captain Nicklas Lidstrom is 39 years
old, and for one of the few times in his career, Mr. Norris Trophy
looked like it in the playoffs. Forward Kris Draper is 38. Goaltender
Chris Osgood and forward Tomas Holstrom are 36. D-man Brian Rafalski
is 35. Center Pavel Datsyuk will turn 31 soon. It had to happen
sometime, but the Big Red Machine has a lot well-worn parts now.
What puts Pucksburgh over the top is the best sixth man in the league.
In Detroit, tickets to even some playoffs games were readily available
this spring, which would have been unthinkable not long ago.
Meanwhile, the Penguins have sold out Mellon Arena in 188 consecutive
games, a streak that began after Crosby came aboard.
In the playoffs, the Mellonheads that donít have tickets watch the
game on a supersized TV monitor outside the arena doors. In the final
game, NBC turn party-pooper and pulled the plug on the lawn party, but
that didnít stop a suburban Pittsburgh couple. They showed the game on
a 10- by 15-foot screen outside their home, where a few hundred fans
pulled up lawn chairs and whooped it up on the street.
Would you believe that 375,000 people showed up for the championship
parade? Or nearly 15 percent of Greater Pittsburgh? On a Monday
afternoon? And that only two arrests were made?
"We got off to a bad start, but they stuck behind us," Crosby said of
the fans after the Stanley Cup clincher. "They have been so loyal to
us for a long time. They deserve this."
When is the best time to rob a bank in the 'Burgh? Easy. When a
Penguins game is on television. Local ratings are so ridiculous,
nobody would know about it. The seventh game of the conference
semifinals against the Washington Capitals was the highest-rated NHL
game for any Fox Sports Network regional outlet in the country. In the
regular season, the average Penguins game produced a 6.9 rating, the
best of any FSN affiliate for the second consecutive season.
No fans travel better than Pittsburgh fans, a fact never more apparent
than in final game of the Stanley Cup Finals the other night. What
sounded like thousands of them erupted into chants of "Letís Go Pens!" after new cult hero Max Talbot scored the first goal of the game. Mind
you, this was at Joe Louis Arena in used-to-be-Hockeytown.
After the Red Wings won it all in Pucksburgh one year ago, the stunned
homies applauded politely while the visitors went wild in their house.
In Hockeytown, bitter Red Wings fans booed Crosby and the rest of the
giddy Penguins while they celebrated on their ice. In the second
period, many of them cheered wildly and waved blood-red towels while
Sid the Kid dragged himself to the bench after a hard-but-illegal
check along the boards.
It was easy to feel the frustration of the Red Wings faithful. Detroit
has been down on its luck for years, a depressed city that could use
something positive to get excited about for a change. Still, one would
expect fans blessed with such a great hockey tradition to show a
little more r-e-s-p-e-c-t, as Motown superstar Aretha Franklin would
spell it out for them.
Of course, they love hockey in more than Motown and the ĎBurgh these
days. Buffalo, Chicago, Minneapolis-St Paul and Philadelphia also have
been mentioned as Hockeytown candidates in recent years. For all their
attributes, though, none of them has had a sniff of the Stanley Cup in
Donít you have to set the standard on the ice before you can be the
acknowledged leader off it?
Now that the Penguins have won something, comparisons to the great
Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980ís have a sliver of legitimacy to
them. The similarities between the two teams are as obvious as Don
Cherryís sportscoat. Up front, the Oilers featured Wayne Gretzky, 23,
Mark Messier, 23, Glen Anderson, 23, and Jari Kurri, 24. The Penguins
have Crosby, 21, Eric Staal, 20, Evgeni Malkin, 22, and Tyler Kennedy,
22. And Eric Tangradi, 20, is on the way. The Oilers had Paul Coffey,
22, on the back line. The Penguins have Kris Letang, 21. In goal, the
Oilers leaned on Grant Fuhr, 21. The Penguins bank on Marc-Andre
Will the Penguins match the Oilers and their run of four Stanley Cups
in a span of five seasons? Maybe, but probably not. At the same,
Crosby, Fleury, Malkin, Staal and stud defenseman Brooks Orpik are
under contract for at least the next four seasons, so itís not out of
the realm of possibility, either.
"We donít want to stop at one," Crosby reminds everyone.
"We want to go for more."
For now, we can agree on this much: Thereís no better place than
Pucksburgh to make it happen.
a Columnist with TheFourthPeriod.com, covering the NHL.