Penguins Long Term Success a Product of Struggle Talent Luck by @Kamo33090 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Penguins Long Term Success a Product of Struggle Talent Luck by @Kamo33090

by Jeff Kamovitch, freelance contributor

How lucky the Penguins are.

Sidney Crosby, having missed the better part of two seasons with concussion issues, suffered another devastating blow when he took a slap shot to the face on March 13th, resulting in a broken jaw and an extended period of time missed. Evgeni Malkin has been battling injuries all season, and star winger James Neal sustained a concussion courtesy of Michael Del Zotto’s elbow on April 5th. Defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin have seen time out of the lineup for weeks with broken bones.

How lucky the Pens have been.

No, really.

I’m not talking about the reigning league MVP being there to fill the gap while our captain is out. It’s not about acquiring living legend Jarome Iginla for a practically a box of unsold Mike Wallace jerseys, either. The road that led Pittsburgh to this point—to possess an awe-striking amount of depth—begins with one of the organization’s fallen angels.

2001. Pittsburgh. Mellon Arena. Jaromir Jagr, then the face of the franchise only behind Mario Lemieux, couldn’t be less happy in the Steel City, and finally demanded what Craig Patrick feared worst: Jagr wanted out. Worse yet, the franchise faced a financial bind in which Jagr would have been a burden to afford anyway.

So Patrick did what he had to. He made the league aware of Jagr’s availability and there was no shortage of interest. One particular offer came from then-Islanders GM, Mike Milbury at the entry draft that year.

Established gargantuan defenseman Zdeno Chara and the second overall pick—which became Jason Spezza—were offered for Jagr only to be pulled the last minute. Milbury famously traded them for and signed a 27-year-old Alexei Yashin to a ten-year deal worth nearly $90 million. Yashin becoming a monumental flop which would haunt the Islanders organization for years to come.

Jagr wound up in Washington for three ‘top’ prospects, all of whom fizzled: Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschak, and Michal Sivek. Save the Jagr casino jokes: this was a gamble Patrick was forced to make.

But what if Patrick had pulled the trigger before Milbury pulled his offer? Consider an alternate history scenario which almost became a reality.

No Crosby. That much is a given.

Zdeno Chara has become the captain of the Boston Bruins after a short tenure in Ottawa following his trade. Spezza is the alternate captain of the Senators and a modest point-producer. Alongside a youthful Alexei Kovalev and Mario Lemieux, Jason Spezza could have thrived arguably far more than he has alongside Daniel Alfredsson.

Even scarier, the notion of Zdeno Chara playing alongside Brooks Orpik might still chill the bones of any NHL forward unlucky enough to have bumped shoulders with either.

Robert Lang might have even re-signed instead of opting for Jagr’s Capitals out of free agency. After all, a team with those assets may have gone the distance. There’s certainly a viable argument to be made that a deep playoff run would have been a no-brainer.

But they would never have seen a Stanley Cup twice. Nor would Kris Letang have the mentoring of Sergei Gonchar, who likely wouldn’t have signed his five-year deal with the Penguins following the 2004-05 lockout. Letang might even have been drafted by another club while the Penguins looked for needed offensive depth with their second-round pick in the 2005 draft.

Consider the financial woes of the Pens of the early 2000's, Spezza might not have even been affordable by his contract’s end.

They never would have had the cash to support the luxury of a fiercely-loaded offense to allow them to continually draft the best of defensemen and stockpile draft picks, only to trade them for stellar assets like Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow without sacrificing the quality of their club.

Perhaps it would have had a butterfly effect; perhaps a Spezza-led Penguins team would have sent the Philadelphia Flyers sinking before the 2004-05 lockout, sending the hockey world’s newest prodigy to Philadelphia. Today, Sidney Crosby could have been a name torturing the Pittsburgh Penguins instead of the other way around. If you don’t have chills contemplating that, check for a pulse.

So, yes, the concussions have been bad. For Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and certainly for Sidney Crosby. All things considered, the arguably terrible trade that Craig Patrick ended up accepting served to solidify two Stanley Cup Final appearances to date, one championship, two of the world’s best players, and the current team that rivals the ability of the best of the Penguins’ Stanley-Cup winning teams.

By all means, Ray Shero deserves all the credit in the world for making stellar trades in his tenure as the club’s general manager. In fact, he’s arguably the best general manager in the game today. But it was the blood, sweat, and tears of Craig Patrick with one gamble to send Jagr to the Washington Capitals for “top prospects,” none of whom became top anything within the Penguins organization, which brought the one thing to the organization that nobody saw coming: good luck.

Jagr probably isn’t looking for thanks for requesting that infamous trade, but I’m sure Mario is dying alive to see the work of Shero and Patrick pay off. The success of this team isn’t purely derived from talent.

They have a bit of luck, too.

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