Starkey: The Penguins' 5-year plunge
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Yes, in some ways it's very happy. And always will be. Five years ago tonight, the Penguins summited Mt. Lidstrom. Their 21-year-old captain, Sidney Crosby, hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup and paraded it around Joe Louis Arena for all the hockey world to see.
Crosby passed the Cup to Bill Guerin, who passed it to Sergei Gonchar, who passed it to Miroslav Satan (I forgot about that) and so on down the line. It finally reached 20-year-old Jordan Staal, who lifted the prize to the heavens and let out a scream so primal it could be heard all the way to Thunder Bay.
We all carry snapshots from that night, I'm sure. Mine begin with the cadre of Penguins fans banging on the glass during the postgame celebration. That was before a strangely normal, cocktail-party type conversation with Brooks Orpik's father amid the on-ice mayhem, and a poignant moment with then-general manager Ray Shero.
I asked Shero what came to mind when the buzzer sounded.
“I thought of everyone who helped me get here, quite honestly,” he said.
Mario Lemieux said of the players, “It's going to be the best summer of their lives.”
Crosby, asked how it felt to raise the Cup, said, “It was actually a lot heavier than I thought it was.”
Little did anyone know that the crowns on their heads would lie even heavier. The Penguins won four playoff series that year. They have won four in the five years since.
So in some ways this hardly feels like a day to celebrate — not with heads rolling like bowling balls at Penguins headquarters.
Could it be that, what felt like a beginning, was actually the end?
It's too early to make that proclamation, of course, but it's also true that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are now closer to 30 than 20. What felt like the makings of a dynasty now feels almost like a cautionary tale.
But cautionary of what?
Are there lessons to be gleaned?
Maybe the Penguins' fall merely reinforced a slew of sports cliches (which usually are true) …
• Nothing is guaranteed. Sports history is littered with great teams that failed to fulfill their potential — and these Penguins are beginning to profile more like the 1990s Atlanta Braves than the 1980s Edmonton Oilers.
• You need luck to win championships. Anybody remember Kris Letang's deflected goal in overtime of Game 3 against Washington, the one that might have kept the Penguins from falling into a three-games-to-none hole?
• Time passes quickly. You'll never find an athlete who says his career dragged. It's gone in a flash.
As for what precisely happened over these past five years, there is no easy answer. Lots of things happened. At various times, the Penguins were undone by bad coaching, bone-headed plays, questionable roster building, thin drafts, cap issues, leadership vacuums, poor goaltending and stars wilting at the biggest moments.
It's been a team effort.
Then there are two significant factors that rarely see the light of day, because, you know, the Penguins were supposed to cruise to multiple Cup wins. These are not intended to excuse Bylsma, who easily could have been fired after the Philly flop and should have been after the Boston blowout.
They are just true:
1. Injuries. The Penguins were robbed of a significant chunk of their allotted time with the “Big Three.” Between 2010-11 and 2011-12 — Staal's final two seasons here — Crosby, Malkin and Staal combined to miss 207 regular-season games. Malkin and Crosby missed the '11 playoffs, when the Penguins seemed poised to roll through the East.
2. Good opponents. A terribly inconvenient fact, I know, but there really were TWO teams on the ice in every series.
In 2010, Montreal had just upset a powerful Capitals team that rang up 121 points (third-most in the past 30 years) and 318 goals (most this millennium). In 2011, Tampa Bay was better than the banged-up Penguins. In 2012, the 103-point Flyers had many of the same players who'd been to the Cup Final in 2010.
Last year's Bruins you know about. This year's Rangers were not only pretty good but also galvanized by a tragedy within the team. It's easy to dismiss them because of what has transpired in the Final, but it's worth noting that they did not trail the mighty Los Angeles Kings for a single second of regulation time in the first two games.
Sometimes, that's just the way it goes.
And then it's gone.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- As banking goes mobile, branch closures rip through local economy
- Jerome Bettis to be enshrined in hall of fame
- Tennessee quarterback Peterman considers transfer to Pitt
- Pitt upsets No. 8 Notre Dame to snap losing streak
- Suggestions are aplenty on what Penguins need to break through
- Gulls fleeing frozen Great Lakes fill skies over Pittsburgh’s Point
- Burrell wrestling wins 9th straight Class AA team title
- Starkey: Pitt needs this version of James Robinson
- Westmoreland museum spotlights artist John Kane’s late-in-life fame
- Familiar Downtown Pittsburgh presence lost arm, leg to train
- City crews getting ready for winter storm expected Sunday, Monday