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Friday, November 29, 2013

Why a Penguins' Fan Should be Thankful by @griffTHW

On a day that most pause to appreciate what they are thankful for, we thought it appropriate to take a step back and examine a few things Pens' fans have been blessed with.  Because, while there are certainly far more important things in life that shouldn't be taken for granted, there's nothing wrong with a club's fan base recognizing all their beloved team has provided for them over the years.

So, with that in mind, we present three reasons Pittsburgh Penguins' fans should be thankful:

Skill, Talent and Firepower

In Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh employs arguably the greatest player of a generation.  Yet, three individuals in franchise history have captured more scoring titles than Sid.  And, while that might not be the case if it weren't for Sidney's superfluous injury history, it's still mind-boggling to think that one club has been spoiled with such a plethora of high-end talent.

Indeed, between Mario Lemieux (6), Jaromir Jagr (5), Evgeni Malkin (2) and Crosby (1), Penguins have captured the Art Ross Trophy on 14 occasions in the last 25 yearsFourteen!  What makes that number even more astonishing is the fact that the next closest team, the L.A. Kings, collected three.  And all three of those came courtesy of Wayne Gretzky nearly twenty years ago. 

Clearly, the Penguins' reign on scoring supremacy is something any Pittsburgh fan should be thankful for.  Whether it came courtesy of Lemieux and Jagr winning 11 point races in 14 years or Malkin and Crosby teaming up for three in the last seven campaigns, Pens fans have been treated to some of the most entertaining, dominant players the game has ever known for nearly a quarter of a century.

A Winning Culture

Sure, there have been some dark ages; remember, for example, when Dick Tarnstrom led the squad in scoring with 52 points as the Pens finished the 2003-'04 season with the NHL's worst record? 

Furthermore, there have been heartbreaking setbacks such as the embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Bruins in last year's Eastern Conference Final.

But, for the most part, this has been an incredibly competitive club for well over two decades.  From the powerhouse, Mario Lemieux-led teams of the early '90s to today's club that is expected to compete for the Cup annually, there's not much more that a fan could ask for (especially in the current parity filled, salary cap era).

In fact, dating back to the end of the Oilers' dynasty (1990), only the Red Wings (4) have captured more Stanley Cups than the Penguins' three championships.  Throw in an extra trip to the Cup Final and three more appearances in the Conference Final and it's clear that Pittsburgh has found its share of postseason success over the years.

And that's not likely to change any time soon.  With an elite core locked up for the foreseeable future, this club will be competitive for years to come.  Does that guarantee Stanley Cup glory?  Of course, not.  But with Ray Shero at the helm, Pens' fans can surely look forward to another decade of exciting hockey in which their squad finds itself on the short list of teams most likely to compete for the Cup.

And there aren't many clubs in such an ideal situation.

Mario Lemieux

Forget the jaw-dropping talent.  Forget the scoring titles and the Stanley Cups.  Because Mario Lemieux actually saved the Pittsburgh Penguins...three times.

After rejuvenating a floundering franchise upon first coming to Pittsburgh in 1984, Lemieux became the face of the Penguins as he developed into one of the greatest stars the game has ever seen.  Eventually, he led the Pens to the pinnacle of the sport in the early '90s, helping the club capture hockey's Holy Grail in back-to-back seasons. 

Years later, when the organization once again fell on hard times in the late '90s, Mario (who was actually the Pen's largest creditor) once again rescued the team in intriguing fashion by purchasing the club out of bankruptcy:

"Lemieux's purchase of the Penguins...was a watershed in professional sports, marking the first time a former professional athlete has exchanged a portion of his salary for ownership of a team. It also is a fascinating tale of how a man with neither a high school degree nor much business experience used his connections, fame and fortune to rescue a franchise for which he won two Stanley Cups and earned distinction as one of the greatest hockey players ever." - Thomas Heath, on Lemieux's purchase of the Penguins
It also served as a valuable learning tool for Lemieux as he transformed from athlete to businessman.  Because, in reality, the acquisition provided only a temporary solution for keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh.  As a result, it set the stage for Mario to eventually free the Penguins from the imminent threat of relocation for good.

Because, in 2007, a real possibility existed that the Penguins would pack up and move to Kansas City.  Without a new arena, the franchise once again found itself in financial dire straits, helpless to support the cost of running an NHL organization.  It took an eleventh hour effort, but Lemieux's group managed to strike a deal with politicians that would eventually lead to the construction of CONSOL Energy Center, a home worthy of what is now one of the NHL's most successful franchises.

But, without Mario Lemieux, that deal never would have been struck; and that is something Pens' fans can be eternally grateful for.


Thanks for reading and here's hoping everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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