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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Pens Need an Identity by @highheelshockey

That's it. Pack it up and go home.

I wrote in my last article "The Cultural Issues with the Pens" that the Pens lack a team identity. I'd like to take this opportunity to elaborate on that subject. It needs a space of its own.

Over the course of the last seven seasons since Sidney Crosby broke into the NHL, a torch was passed to him from Mario Lemieux. This team would become Sidney Crosby's team. During that time, the Penguins organization and the NHL as a whole have married the two together. Crosby, being without a doubt the best player in the world, is a marketing gold mine. He is consistently the most sought after jersey league wide year after year. He is the face of Reebok, Gatorade, and so many other companies. He is the face of the NHL.

When Crosby was sidelined with injuries, the Penguins were forced to be something different, but the mantra remained the same. Every pre-game and post-game interview and sound clips after morning skate were the same. "When is Crosby coming back? How will you continue to win without Crosby?"

It was only then that I realized exactly how tied to the Pens identity Sid was and still is. When they lose, the question from the media is immediately, "What can Sid do to bring this team back?"

I've come to realize this is an incredibly flawed question for so many reasons. I've heard Mark Madden and Tim Benz say that it is the responsbility of the superstars- like Sid, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang- to take the weight of the world on their shoulders and single handedly bring back the team from hard times.

Doesn't that negate the fundamental value that holds this sport together that this is and always will be a team sport?

This isn't baseball where you need your pitchers to remain accurate and strong inning after inning or just need one guy to be able to put the ball into the bleachers to secure a win. Baseball is much more about the individual and less about the collective. I'm not dismissing the importance of the team as a whole in the sport, but the structure and the basics of it on paper are incredibly different.

In hockey, there are four lines, three defensive pairings, and a goalie that all need to do their job and do their job well shift after shift, night after night.

Hockey is a sport where their truly is no "I" in team.

The Pens are synonymous with three things: Mario Lemieux, Dan Bylsma, and Sidney Crosby.

It is understandable that the true face of this franchise is a player who spent his career here, saved the team,  got us a new arena, and is an owner. It also helps that he is the best player to ever play the game- another torch he passed to Sid in 2005. 66 is special to hockey's legacy and he is special to our city.

Dan Bylsma was the Pens coach for only a short time before they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. He has become an iconic figure through his media friendly personality, HBO 24/7, and the way he has immersed himself into the Pittsburgh culture. He is always at events throughout the city in his spare time, helping raise money for important causes and doing his best to give back to the community.

While I strongly question Bylsma's ability to coach this team in a way that suits their immediate needs, I never ever question his commitment to making our city a better place to live. I admire and appreciate him as a person. I've had the pleasure of meeting him and speaking to him on several occasions. He is a stand up guy. He just may not be the best guy to lead the Pens.

Crosby as the face of the Pens is an enigma I cannot piece together. By all metrics that one would use to measure his caliber as a captain, Sid is top notch. He is becoming better with he media. He does his absolute best to help his teammates when they are struggling, staying after practice either working with others, or fine tuning his own game. He is always the last one off the ice and you always see  him on the bench going over strategy with the team.

Crosby is by all accounts a good captain, but as fans, we have only a tiny glimpse via what we see with our own eyes, and what we hear via second hand information from reporters. No one has bad words for Sidney Crosby, but that doesn't mean that there isn't more going on when the cameras are turned off and the microphones are stowed away.

I've heard reports that Sid refused to change his linemates, leaving Jarome Iginla on line with Malkin and James Neal- which screws up that line's chemistry. This is certainly not what is in the best interest of the team. Sid plays extremely well with Iginla. I'm not saying this is gospel and I am not trying to be a rumor monger. I am just saying that this is what I read, and I have read similiar things in the past. When I read the same thing multiple times, I am going to start analyzing what it means if in fact these rumors are more than just  idle gossip.

Is Sid making demands to keep the team together in a way that suits his vision? If that is the case, it isn't working.

When Sid was out all of those months, Malkin did well stepping up as a leader for the team. But even with Malkin leading the charge, the media and organization paid no mind. It was still all about Crosby's return and if this team could survive the long haul without him.

They can. They did. And they will again.

This team cannot maintain being "Sidney Crosby's Penguins." It is tearing them apart. This team needs an identity that binds them as one- not as one person and the rest of them tailing behind.

Until the Penguins learn to be The Penguins, they will continue to be one man and the faceless others- and they will continue to fail together.

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