Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bring Back the Fun

The pieces are in place, aside from a tinker here and there, and we finally have an idea of what our 2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins will look like.  They'll be deeper, younger, and lacking some very familiar faces.  The main goal, as always, for the new group may remain win the Cup but there's a secondary goal for this squad of Penguins:

Bring back the fun.

Almost without realizing it this all became hard.  It became difficult.  Watching games became a chore.  It was no longer appointment viewing, it was forced viewing.  The Byslma Penguins, much like other teams, continually made this too hard on themselves.

Rick Tocchet, Mike Johnston, Jim Rutherford
The shine of the previous teams, the ones with unrealized expectations, had long faded.  The shine of a Cup changed the game.  Suddenly every team, no matter how flawed or follied, were told that there was only one acceptable outcome: The Stanley Cup.

Bylsma did his best to keep the room loose.  Jokes, games, puzzles.  It wasn't enough.  He lost the room.  He lost the team.  He lost.  He's gone.  Ray Shero, the architect of all you see before you, is gone.  The fun left long before they did.

The new men in charge, Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston, are tasked with something more than Bylsma and Shero were.  Fans don't just want the Cup.  The fans want fun.  The fans want to feel the weight of expectations off of their shoulders, too.  They want more.

It's up to Rutherford and Johnston to deliver.

Matt Cooke
The wins are not the only important thing.  Bylsma won.  Shero won.  They also built teams that were hard to love.  For all of James Neal's positives there were bigger negatives.  Craig Adams was as polarizing as could be.  Tanner Glass was beloved or trashed.  There were no players that were just loved.  There was no Gary Roberts, there was no Max Talbot, there was no Matt Cooke.  Those players all left for money.  They were never replaced.

The fun players, the jolly players, they didn't exist.  Dupuis and Fleury brought levity.  They also brought deep, deep discussion.  They weren't allowed to just be funny, they were either over rated or under rated with no in-between.

The personalities that drew one in to the team were never replaced.  It made watching difficult.  While people watch for the name on the front of the jersey they root for the names on the back.  Suddenly less of "those" players were around.  Suddenly it became habit viewing.  It became easier to miss.

Suddenly there was a disconnect, a void, an expanse.  The magic, the fun, was gone.  The things that drew fans to the team beyond city allegiance had vanished and never truly replaced.  It led to a do or die attitude.  The team wasn't fun to die with because the players were no longer fun to die with.

Steve Downie
New players bring about the possibility of new "those guys."  Could it be Steve Downie, the player who seemingly embodies that "blue collar" ethic that Pittsburgh has soaked up like a sponge?  Could it be Christian Ehrhoff, who took a discount to come and play for a contender?  Will it be a trade deadline acquisition that gives a spark to the room?  Could it possibly be new assistant coach Rick Tocchet?

Will these players rekindle the flame and bring new life to the locker room to the team, and to the fans?

For Johnston and Rutherford it's not just about winning.  It's now about winning back the fans.  The ones who have grown complacent and stagnant, much as the teams under Bylsma and Shero were.  For the front office it now becomes a heavier burden than one ever faced by their predecessors.

It's not just bring back the Cup.

It's time to bring back the fun._________________________________________________________
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