|Life Truly Sucks When Vince Vaughn Gets to Celebrate Instead of You|
All hail the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions and a true hockey dynasty! With his third Cup win, Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews has effectively eliminated any and all discussion about being hockey's greatest leader (sorry Mark Messier, and sorry Sidney Crosby).
In the losing locker room—outside of NFL wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who blamed God for his own failings— players usually cite their own personal disappointments and eschew team-wide lamentations.
This selfless tendency of teams in moments of vulnerability— moments better known as "after they lose"— is a concept that can be used to address the shortcomings of the Pittsburgh Penguins on this, the night that Jonathan Toews and his teammates won their third Stanley Cup in six years. In short, the entirety of the Penguins' organization shares responsibility for only one banner, and the Blackhawks, along with their management team, are the embodiment of everything the Pens should have become, but ultimately never did.
Let's back up to 2005: Penguins' fans (actually, all NHL television viewers) were force-fed the narrative that the arrival of Sidney Crosby would transform the league, and #87 would lead the resurrection of Pittsburgh's struggling ice hockey franchise and be the face of the NHL for years to come.
To be fair, the prophecy was half-accurate: Crosby has been an annual force in the scoring race department, and the Penguins did reach consecutive Stanley Cup Finals, claiming a championship in 2009.
Crosby and his supporting cast have never again reached that pinnacle, enduring year after year of underwhelming playoff exits. While Crosby and fellow megastar Evgeni Malkin's post-season production have come closer to resembling a magician's disappearing act than the generational talents they were supposed to be, they received little, if any help, from the linemates accumulated by General Managers Ray Shero and, more recently, Jim Rutherford.
Difference Between the Blackhawks & Penguins #1: Supporting Cast and Rolling Four Lines
Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Kris Letang. Paul Martin.
Jonathan Toews. Patrick Kane. Patrick Sharp. Marian Hossa. Brandon Saad. Conn Smythe Winner Duncan Keith. Brent Seabrook.
If you need more evidence of an utter failure of Penguins management to surround Sid and Geno with elite players, remember this: BRIAN GIBBONS PLAYED ON THE TOP LINE ALONGSIDE CROSBY DURING THE 2014 PLAYOFFS.
Not having multiple elite lines featuring multiple talented players means opposing teams can stack their defensive pairings and aspire to shut down #87 and #71 and then win via attrition, because Craig Adams, DEREK ENGELLAND PLAYING WING, and so on.
The disparity in ability leads into the second point....
Difference Between the Blackhawks & Penguins #2: Willingness to Play and Develop Young Players
If Brandon Saad had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he would still be playing in Wilkes-Barre because Dan Bylsma refused to play rookies.
|NHL Hockey Ratings: Intensity 73, |
Off. Awareness 74, Injury 74, Frosted Tips 99
...it's terrible (and telling) that the above comment can be read as sincere and not facetious sarcasm. Chicago's front office understood that the give-take of paying top players top money was that the young (see: cheap) skaters would have to fill up the bottom lines and hold their own offensively in order to make the "Superstar Model" work.
It's not necessarily that Beau Bennett is a terrible NHL player (SPOILER ALERT: he is), it's that the Penguins treated Bennett as a liability instead of just throwing the kid into pressure situations and letting him learn to float and swim along the professionals during an otherwise meaningless regular season.
When you throw in the facts that Shero and Rutherford both served up First Round Draft picks as trade fodder and, when actually possessing one of the first thirty picks, the Pens took defenseman after defenseman, the dearth of NHL-ready talent across four lines seems painfully obvious.
Difference Between the Blackhawks & Penguins #3: Responsible Spending on Veterans / Free Agents
This might seem a strange point to award the Blackhawks given that they will be permanent residents of Salary Cap HELL for years to come AND they employ Brad Richards, but Chicago is devoid of the contractual albatrosses that are the beloved Pascal Dupuis, the iron deficient Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter, and sweet sassy molassy...Rob Scuderi.
Pittsburgh's long-term signings of these players did not improve the franchise. The signings were more or less fanboi homages to players who either enjoyed their best seasons wearing a Penguins' crest or were absurdly overvalued for their "presence" in the locker room.
Pittsburgh's financial wrangling is all the more confusing because overspending and oversigning (both hallmarks of the 2008-2015 Penguins) more or less demanded that the organization focus on developing young talent, but as mentioned above, it just didn't happen.
The signings of Rob Scuderi and Christian Ehrhoff are mind-numbingly painful because— and again, harkening back to Difference #2 above— Shero and Rutherford chose to spend what little money they did have to spend on defensemen; or, A POSITION THEY HAD OVERDRAFTED FOR FIVE YEARS RUNNING.
Yes, it was Ray Shero's MO to treat his prized puck-moving defensemen like a poker commodity, to be thrown into the middle at the trade deadline to acquire the perpetually sought-after top line wingers that, again, the organization failed to draft and/or failed to professionally develop...
...but when the cupboard eventually runs dry (as it now has for Pittsburgh outside of Kasperi Kapanen), there are just no options, and owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have reached the inevitable conclusion that their investment, the Pittsburgh Penguins, has surpassed its high-water mark, and it's in their best business interest to sell, sell, sell.
In conclusion, don't hate the Blackhawks because they've won three championships. Don't hate the Chicago Blackhawks because Toews has left Crosby in the proverbial dust when it comes to winning the hardware that matters most- Stanley Cups.
Hate the Chicago Blackhawks because their entire organization has played the NHL game better than the Penguins, and now the Penguins' window to replicate their 2009 magic may be closing for good.