Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
At any given point during the Mike Johnston era, how many of us could have even dreamt of this?
The Pittsburgh Penguins, back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. The first team to repeat as champions in the salary cap era, and the first team to do it since the Detroit Red Wings pulled it off in 1997-1998.
However, questions abound this offseason, and most fans have shifted their focus toward the upcoming expansion draft. Presumably, the Golden Knights will select beloved goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but it’s possible that they could go a different route and pick either forward Bryan Rust or defenseman Ian Cole.
It remains to be seen what happens with several key free agents, as well. Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen and Ron Hainsey are all unrestricted free agents, and while the NHL’s salary cap for next season has risen $2 million to $75 million, it’s virtually impossible that the Penguins will be able to re-sign everyone. Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz are all restricted free agents, as well, and all three players are due for pay raises.
But no matter what happens this offseason, truly try to appreciate this moment.
In debating a player’s greatness or the superiority of one team over another, championships are usually the defining factor that people fall back upon to rest their case. Regular season successes are rarely celebrated.
In the last NBA season, the Golden State Warriors set a league record, going an astounding 73-9 in the regular season. However, they’d go on to lose in the NBA Finals 4-3 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the eyes of many, their season of unprecedented success means practically nothing now.
Years ago, the same thing happened in the NFL, as the 2007 New England Patriots went undefeated all season long until they suffered a 17-14 defeat to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The season is remembered by those around Foxboro, Massachusetts, with aversion.
To championship-caliber teams, there is no such thing as relative success or a moral victory.
In an age that so heavily favors championships to any other form of success, the Penguins have cemented themselves as the lasting champion of this decade.
After the Stanley Cup win, the successes of the past two seasons and all of the memories that come along with them for the Penguins and their fans are inalienable. Being a repeat champion of anything gives the winner indisputable dominion, and that’s exactly what the Penguins have now in the NHL.
Furthermore, this Cup cements Sidney Crosby as one of the top-five players that the game has ever seen. In leading his team to its third Stanley Cup title during his tenure, second Cup in a row, and in collecting his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, Crosby has silenced those who said that the game was passing him by and in doing so placed an immense gap between himself and any of his competition from this generation.
For hockey fans, for Penguins fans – and especially for Duquesne students who can attend Penguins games for $29 via Student Rush – it’s been an unbelievable few years we’ve witnessed from the Penguins.
On June 21, the Vegas Golden Knights will reveal their inaugural jerseys, and 13 of the league’s 31 teams will reportedly reveal new uniforms, as well. The league’s partnership with Reebok will officially end, as the NHL will begin their partnership with Adidas. Vegas will make their selections public, likely ending Marc-Andre Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins will experience much more roster turnover this offseason than they did last year, and several key contributors will likely depart from Pittsburgh, as well.
But, for fans that were able to witness this past few years of truly unforgettable Penguins hockey, be grateful.
The banner that will soon accompany last year’s flag in the PPG Paints Arena rafters truly means something, as does last season’s.
Next season, I will be rooting for a three-peat as avidly as anyone in Pittsburgh. But don’t let anything detract from what we’ve been blessed enough to witness over the past few years.
Next year and in 50 years, be proud of what these Penguins have accomplished.