The Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup championship isn’t just a victory for Penguins fans – it is a victory for the future of the sport and hockey fans all across the U.S. and Canada.
For decades, the NHL has struggled to create a product that can grow the sport’s fan base. While other major sports leagues have developed and sold a product centered around skilled “stars” and scoring, hockey continues to see a battle between teams and systems built around skilled stars and those built around trapping, physicality, cheap shots, and a mind-numbingly slow game.
The Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships may mark a turning point in this battle of systems. In a league of copycats, the Penguins blueprint for winning – skill, speed, and scoring – may finally push the entire league to a type of hockey that can grow the fan base.
The Penguins overcame teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, and Nashville Predators who tried to hit and trap their way to a Stanley Cup. Even the skilled Washington Capitals found themselves trying to counter Pittsburgh’s speed by relying on a more physical game.
All of these teams came up short.
The Pens are a skilled, star-heavy team – led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. Their skilled stars are paired with a ton of speedy youngsters – Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and Jake Guentzel. Throw in an amazingly talented young goalie in the form of Matt Murray, an under-rated defensive corps (that won without their most talented d-man Kris Letang), and a deep roster with skilled vets like Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, and Carl Hagelin, and you have a team that did something that hasn’t been done in almost 20 years – back-to-back championships.
The Penguins system isn’t an easy one to duplicate but at a time when the league is flush with young, talented, skilled players such as Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Connor McDavid, it is easy to imagine a league that moves away from the Devils-Kings blueprint and towards the Penguins blueprint for success.
Let’s be honest, hockey fanatics like me will always be fans. Hockey has a rabid and loyal base that will show up and tune in whether we are getting to watch Lemieux-Gretzky era hockey or the Devils about as exciting as watching paint dry style of hockey from the early 2000s.
If hockey wants to move away from being a niche sport and truly grow the game both here in North America – and around the globe – then the Pittsburgh Penguins win may truly be a good omen, the first step in Making Hockey Great Again!