It’s been almost 48 hours since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Are we allowed to get greedy yet?
I know there will be some reading this post saying: “Can’t we wait until the parade is over?” But the question is worth asking: What if these Penguins win a third Stanley Cup? And what if they win it next year? How would that compare to the sainted Mario/Jagr teams of the 90’s/early 2000’s? Would that elevate this team above the perceived untouchable greatness of the Lemieux teams?
I say yes.
Honestly, it shouldn’t be that hard of a question to answer, right? It’d be three cups for Team 87/71 vs two for Team 66/68. It’d be four finals appearances vs two. It’d be five conference finals appearances vs four. And it’d be one set of back to back titles apiece.
Those accomplishments seem to heavily favor these modern Penguins to the Cup teams of the early 90’s. History should look more fondly on the team Mario has owned than the one he played for. Frankly, unless you put incredible weight on repeating, even if the current Pens didn’t claim the third cup next year but still managed to win another in the Sid-Geno era that should elevate them above the ‘91/’92 clubs.
But did that feel as blasphemous for you to read as it did for me to write? I feel like I should put myself in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct just for thinking it.
Your first love always seem to linger the longest. And those on-ice Lemieux era teams are what first attached this city to hockey on a mainstream level.
And this argument isn’t the same thing as comparing the Super Steelers of the 70’s to the Ben Roethlisberger era teams. Twenty-six years spanned between Super Bowls 14 and 40. Many who enjoyed what happened in Detroit know nothing of Super Bowl XIV beyond what NFL films has told us.
But roughly a decade less of a gap between the hockey titles means there are more people who were able to enjoy the high points of both eras, and by extension more have sentimental leanings towards both. The “these are your Stillers” vs “your daddy’s Stillers” in the football comparison doesn’t apply as easily in this puck debate.
Yet that natural deference to the memories of (and respect for) history always seems to kick in with discussions like this. The further we get away from the moment the more likely we are to see the beautiful portrait…and overlook the warts.
Those who contend that the 90’s Penguins would still be superior to this modern group would likely point to the long lull between championships. That’s fair. These Penguins dealt with the “underachievers” label for six full playoff runs in between Cups.
But then again, what were the Penguins for the five post seasons between winning Cup #2 and Mario’s initial retirement after the 1997 campaign? Pretty much the same thing right? In fact I’d suggest that of all the teams that came up short under the Sid/Geno tent, none were as singularly talented as that infamous 1993 Lemieux-era team that was stunningly upset by the Islanders in the second round. Even the disappointing 2013 team featuring Crosby & Malkin at least made it to the conference final before their ignominious exit at the hands of Boston that year. And that Bruins’ team was far better than the Islander squad that upended the ‘93 Pens.
Here are a few other things I’d argue are in favor of the current Penguins when comparing legacies of the two teams:
-These current Penguins faced a tougher foe in the Finals. The ‘08 Red Wings won the President’s Trophy. The’ 09 Wings had just three fewer points and were second best in the West. The ‘92 Blackhawks were 3rd best in the west and were a slightly better comp than this year’s Sharks. But San Jose did have a deflated point total because of just six loser points in overtime. Meanwhile the ‘91 NorthStars had the league’s second lowest playoff point total with 68 and got in as the last seed from the Norris Division.
-Both teams dispatched frequent playoff speed bump Washington en route to each of their two titles. But I’d argue the ‘09 Caps were better than the ‘92 squad. And the ‘16 team was superior to any of the other three.
-The current Penguins beat the Flyers twice on the way to Stanley Cup Finals appearances, lost once to Philly in the playoffs. The Lemieux/Jagr Pens were 0-2 vs Philly in playoff competition. Yeah. That matters.
This isn’t a debate over who’d win a best of seven series between the squads. I’d yield on that point. The 90’s teams had more talent for a longer swath of time (particularly if you factored in the the ‘01 post Mario return team). This is a debate about accomplishment, legacy, and success within the era.
And based on the evidence above I’d say the legacy of these modern Penguins should be held in higher esteem if they win another title. In fact, I’d argue it should be already.