Tim Benz: 10 years after 1st Cup, expectations change for Crosby, Malkin
Penguins fans have had a lot of fun anniversaries to celebrate lately.
• The 35th anniversary of drafting Mario Lemieux was Sunday.
• The end of this season marked the 30th anniversary of Lemieux’s 199-point campaign in 1989.
• Today is the 10th anniversary of the 2009 Stanley Cup championship victory in Detroit.
Fair warning. Your heart may jump at roughly the 8:27 mark of that video. Relax, though. Marc-Andre Fleury still makes the save.
I remember walking down from the press box to ice level that night and having a sense of relief for the franchise.
Because whatever was going to happen over the next 10, or 15, or 20 years of the Crosby-Malkin era, at least it reached its ultimate goal.
And fast, too. It took just three years of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing together in Pittsburgh before hoisting a banner. The eventual championship we all assumed when the duo first hit the ice together in October 2006 was quickly fulfilled.
These Penguins wouldn’t have to wait until Detroit’s dynasty was dismantled. Crosby and Malkin wouldn’t be like John Stockton and Karl Malone in Utah — a legendary pair that simply couldn’t get over the top.
The team wouldn’t be the Bills of the ’90s — or the Pirates or the Steelers of the ’90s, for that matter.
They ended a 17-year Stanley Cup drought in Pittsburgh. Whatever happened next, the Crosby-Malkin era was going to be worth it because they were champs.
At least once.
But, I mean, there were going to be more. Right? If the two-headed monster got one Stanley Cup before either player was older than 22, they were going to win at least three or four more together.
By the time I arrived on Joe Louis Arena’s ice surface that night, that idea was the exact thought in my mind. It took me all of three minutes to go from “What a payoff!” to “How many more can we expect?”
I wasn’t alone. A lot of Penguins fans assumed the same thing. That’s what made the next seven years so frustrating. Crosby and Malkin were surrounded by so many good players for so long, yet they kept losing to lesser teams in the playoffs.
They kept on getting injured. Melting down emotionally. Blowing playoff series leads.
Thankfully, though, there are now more anniversaries to add to that list. Like another one today for the 2016 Cup team, and the one yesterday for the 2017 championship.
Now the era truly has been fulfilled. Without a doubt. Wallow in those memories. Because technically, the Penguins are as far away from a Cup as they have ever been since No. 87 and No. 71 first began skating together. This is the first year in their partnership that the Penguins couldn’t boast at least one playoff victory.
Even when they got bounced in previous first rounds in 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2015, they at least won a game.
Not this year. And a team that the coach and general manager openly wanted to rearrange back in April may return nearly the same in October because of some onerous contracts that are too difficult to move.
Was it unfair to assume that Crosby and Malkin had multiple championships in them after 2009? I don’t think so. With those two phenomenal talents and the vast assembly of young skill surrounding them in that locker room, you could see it.
You could feel it. They’d get at least one more.
It was a more circuitous route to get back there than I expected. But they did it.
And with very few of the complementary parts from the ‘09 team still around them. However, it would be unfair to assume a fourth title for the tandem.
Expecting two or three rings out of Malkin and Crosby when they were in their early 20s may have been greedy. Assuming a fourth now that they are both in their early 30s, like many other mainstays on the team, would be stupid.
Let’s avoid assuming, then. That’s different than doubting, mind you. Because I won’t rule out another championship.
The Penguins have six men on their roster for next season over 30. The Bruins have eight between 31 and 42 right now. They might win the Cup against St. Louis Wednesday in their Game 7.
So maybe these Penguins can reboot, retool and squeeze out another parade. Crosby and Malkin are still special. They are still coming off a 100-point season as a team.
But 10 years changes a lot of things. Perspective, for one.
Expectations, for another.
But not appreciation for what they’ve accomplished. That should always stay the same.