Under former general manager Ray Shero, the Pittsburgh Penguins would conduct a team-wide meeting at the start of training camp.
Reportedly, Shero always capped the get-together by saying that the franchise’s only goal was the Stanley Cup.
That kind of ambition is pretty routine in the world of professional sports, even for teams that have no reasonable opportunity to win a championship. It seemingly falls under the axiom that if you shoot for the stars and fall short, you’ll still land on the moon.
However, after the Penguins repeatedly crumbled under the playoff pressure in recent years, maybe it’s time to admit that the Cup-or-bust mentality did this team more harm than good.
Don’t get me wrong: the Pens have every reason to be disappointed in how each of the past five seasons have turned out. The firings of Shero and former head coach Dan Bylsma were justified – and furthermore, a franchise-wide reset might be just what this team needs to recharge.
Still, I can’t help but think the lofty expectations expressed by management hindered the Penguins from maximizing their performance when the heat was on.
There’s enough external pressure in the world of big-time sports, especially when a team possesses the kind of high-end talent the Penguins do. There’s no need to further tighten that vice.
Last time I checked, only one team out of 30 wins it all. I’m sure the Blackhawks and Kings also lament the near-misses they’ve had, but the fact that both franchises have claimed the Stanley Cup twice each in the past five years is extraordinary – especially while operating under the NHL’s hard salary cap.
The Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era has yielded one title and it could be argued the Penguins should have cashed in another at some point. That they haven’t collected more than eight wins in a playoff year since 2009 is more of an indictment than the lack of additional Cups, though.
Obviously, the heat is on the revamped Penguins to make another deep postseason run. But for as much as that thought has lingered over this team and its stars, there’s no benefit in reinforcing the obvious before the season.
Judging from Jim Rutherford‘s drama-free personality, I’m guessing he won’t belabor the point in training camp. Yes, the Penguins have an opportunity to do what few teams can, but the focus needs to be taken off the result and placed more on the process.
The joy in life is in the journey. It would benefit the Penguins to consider that when they reconvene to prepare for the 2014-15 season.