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Pens Face Unprecedented Degree Of Difficulty In Quest For Three-peat

The road to doing this a 3rd time for the Penguins is fraught with potholes and tired bodies.

The Penguins currently find themselves on the brink of a playoff spot. Their play this season has been mostly uninspiring, lacking in both goal production and goal prevention. However, it is important to remember that the Penguins are facing an unprecedented degree of difficulty in attempting to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions. Yes, it has been done before. Most recently, the New York Islanders captured four-straight Stanley Cups 1980-84. Even further back, the Montreal Canadiens won four-consecutive champions 1976-79. However, in both cases, it was simply a different era in the NHL. There were significantly less teams, the goaltending was not nearly as good as it is today, and the training and coaching tools that teams use today were not even fathomable back then.

Since the 1990-91 season, only seven franchises have even managed to get to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons; the 1991 and 1992 Penguins, and 1997 and 1998 Red Wings, the 1999 and 2000 Stars, the 2000 and 2001 Devils, the 2008 and 2009 Red Wings and Penguins, and the 2016 and 2017 Penguins. When the Penguins captured the 2017 championship, they became the first repeat champion in the salary cap era. With the institution of the salary cap beginning with the 2006-07 season, even getting to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons is an accomplishment in itself. Only the 2008 and 2009 Red Wings and Penguins and the 2016 and 2017 Penguins have managed to get to the Final in back-to-back seasons since the implementation of the salary cap. With teams having to let free agents walk or trade away high-priced players due to salary cap implications, the makeup of teams from season-to-season can change drastically.

The sheer number of games it takes to get back to the Stanley Cup Final is an additional factor that makes it so difficult to repeat as champion. Consider that the Penguins played 213 games in the past two seasons, not including preseason games or any games that the team ?s many star players participated in during the World Cup of Hockey during the summer of 2016.

Another thing that makes it so difficult to repeat, let alone three-peat, is the parity in today ?s NHL. In last season ?s Stanley Cup final, the Nashville Predators became the 16th different franchise to reach the Final since the 2005-06 lockout, which makes the Penguins ? four Stanley Cup Final appearances in that span all the more impressive.

Further, the sheer number of extraordinary accomplishments that had to take place in route to the Penguins repeating as champions are nothing short of astounding. First, head coach Mike Sullivan has won his first eight playoff series and became only the second coach in NHL history to win championships in his first two seasons. Second, then-rookie Jake Guentzel tied the all-time rookie record for points in an NHL Playoff season with 21. Third, goaltender Matt Murray, still considered a rookie by NHL rules last season, captured his second championship by recording back-to-back shutouts to close out the Cup — something that had not be accomplished since 1952.

Penguins fans have certainly been spoiled the past few seasons, but it is important to recall just how difficult the road to back-to-back championships was. Take into account that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, made it to the Conference Final in 2013, won the Stanley Cup again in 2014, then missed the playoffs completely in 2015. Also consider the plight of the Chicago Blackhawks. They won the Stanley Cup in 2013, lost in the Conference Final in 2014, won the Stanley Cup again in 2015, but then lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, including an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Predators last season.

The point is that reaching the third and fourth round of the playoffs every season eventually takes a toll on even the best of teams. While this season ?s team has left a lot to be desired thus far, it is important to remember the grind the core of the team has gone through in playing 213 games the past two seasons. It ?s not an excuse, it ?s a fact. Sure, this team, with its core players, coaching staff, and GM can never be counted out, but the precedent of Los Angeles and Chicago would suggest that an early playoff exit for the Penguins this season might be more likely than a third-consecutive championship.

Professional sports writer, fluent in sarcasm and other humorous arts. Bachelor and Master degrees from Duquesne University. Member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Have previously written for many outlets, including the AP, Sports Xchange, PA SportsTicker, etc. Regularly appear as a guest on local sports radio. Expert at Name That Tune and proficient in many other areas of useless knowledge.

4 Comments on Pens Face Unprecedented Degree Of Difficulty In Quest For Three-peat

  1. Bob Stover // December 29, 2017 at 1:33 PM //

    Can’t argue with your logic, but these Penguins teams, (this year’s TBD), have shown a heart and cohesiveness that other teams have not. The two most recent Cups were born out of failure, not success; that’s heart. The core of Sid, Geno, Kris Letang, Kessel, Murray and Hornqvist are the cohesive center around which Jim Rutherford has weaved lesser players in and out of Pens uniforms to allow them to excel in the post season. Only time will tell if the Pens can do it again. Statistics would suggest that is most unlikely that the Pens will win a third straight Cup, but if any team can do in the salary cap era, it will be the Penguins.

    • mark delsignore // December 30, 2017 at 8:49 AM //

      Agree Bob

      Unless they do not make the playoffs or someone knocks them out, they have a shot because as you say of their core and JR’s ability to weave a supporting cast of characters around them.

      The real part of the regular season is just about to begin — after the “bye” week.

      I personally would not “shake the thing up” as the rumor mill is flying with talk of trades of high profile players. I would tinker around the edges to see if the team can catch some more “puck luck” as constructed or with a trade here and there to see if we can get “that guy” that fits hand in glove.

      Otherwise, an early exit, strategically speaking, is not the end of the world as we still have a great core and the guys could use some rest and go hard next year with a healthy Letang and well rested Sid/Geno et al.

      • Bob Stover // January 3, 2018 at 3:48 PM //

        Sorry for this late response. My wife was in the hospital over the holidays and I wasn’t tuning in to the blog.

        I happen to agree with you that it will not be the end of the world if the Pens either miss the playoffs entirely (better draft position and more rest), or make an early exit in the 1st or 2nd round. GMJR has shown an ability to weave a variety of bodies in and out of the Pens lineup over the last two years, but I think it gets harder. The more success he has in that formula, the more other GM’s will be scratching their heads and wondering what he sees in fringe players that they are missing. May make some teams unwilling to do a deal.

  2. Vince Comunale // January 4, 2018 at 1:03 PM //

    I agree with you both. I hope that GMJR doesn’t mortgage the future or sell the farm just to take a run at a third Stanley Cup. This team has a window of 3-4 more years to win another Cup.

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