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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Image is Everything

Tonight, as Pittsburgh take on the Flyers, the Penguins will finally wear their gorgeous new third jerseys.  The jerseys invoke a time of great success for the team, a time when everything was new, was fun, and was fresh.  It's yet another move in the rebranding of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Six months ago things were stale.  The Penguins were old.  The core, the coach, the concept of the Penguins had run dry.  A somewhat predictable collapse in the playoffs was something fans have become all too familiar with.  Failure brought about change, but it was rocky.

Starting with the unexpected firing of Ray Shero, and the still puzzling retention of a clearly lame duck Dan Bylsma, the start of the Penguins off season was handled seemingly as poorly as possible. It all started with a General Manager search that, inexplicably, heavily involved Pierre McGuire (reportedly even offered a deal from the Penguins) that lasted nearly a month.  When the search was concluded an old retread without the best track record was seemingly settled one while somewhere between three and thirty assistant GMs were brought on board.

The first widely publicized coaching choice?  He chose the Carolina Hurricanes.  The second choice? He was reported to be a all but a done deal until he shocked the world by heading to Vancouver.  Then words began to leak out about the mess inside.  As we reported, the Penguins had already hired assistant coaches figuring that their first choice was their man.  Their cart was far before their horse and now it was hard to find

Finally the Penguins found their new leader: their third choice, Mike Johnston.  While Johnston seemed like a good hire, one who has qualities that were easy to get behind in terms of style and system's strength with the team in hand, it seemed like a blow that such a loaded team as the Penguins, which had had a solid reputation, had to settle on a third choice.  Suddenly a top tier destination seemed relegated to an afterthought.

The start of the NHL Draft brought about more of the same.  The shocking James Neal trade to the Nashville Predators, one whose return seemed to be underwhelming compared to some of the outright theft from the Shero era, sent away a somewhat beloved player and sent the fan base further into a tizzy.  While some solid free agency signings and a seeming draft steal outside of the Shero mold helped set some ease to things the road still felt rocky.

Fast forward to this day in history October 22nd, 2014, and none of this matters anymore.  The Penguins are 3-1-0 and are playing exciting hockey.  There's a buzz about the team that hasn't been felt in quite a while, since they last lifted Lord Stanley.  For the moment things are okay.  Great, actually.  For the time being, this was all worth it.

Harkening back to the black and yellow of Mario's time, a time of buzz that's rarely been seen with the Penguins or the city, is just another part of the do-over of the Sidney Crosby era.  Despite success that many teams never see it's just not enough.  There's a want, a need, for more.  The offseason was ugly, messy.  If Johnston had failed, or Patric Hornqvist didn't produce, or any number of other things had been different things wouldn't be so upbeat.  However the risks paid off.

The Penguins have re-branded the Penguins new era to be associated with the old era, one that saw deep teams go far.  How the rest of the season goes is anyone's guess.  Right now, however, the new Penguins are fun again.  Like the old.  When they take the ice tonight it'll feel like a flashback.  The Penguins hope that the results on ice will follow that lead._________________________________________________________
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