2016 Stanley Cup Champions
Is there a more fitting word for this 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins squad?
I don't think so. How about words? I have three.
Stanley Cup Champions.
This season start with a lofty, albeit obtainable expectation that this team could easily win the Stanley Cup. They made the acquisition to get star winger Phil Kessel. They acquired Nick Bonino in a trade that sent away fan--and teammate--favorite, Brandon Sutter. The team was healthy and rested and fired up and everything looked to be in favor of the Penguins.
However, many analysts at the beginning of the year thought they would struggle. "Not enough puck to go around" was a common theme I had read and heard. For the first half of the season, maybe that was true. Or maybe it was the fact that despite the unbeatable paper team they had created, they were very easily defeated on the ice many nights.
There was no identity. There was no desire, at least that I could see. There were so many nights where it looked like they were playing for a paycheck rather than each other and it showed in the way the players were handling themselves. There was defeat in their eyes.
Thank god for Marc-Andre Fleury for those first two and a half months. And don't any of you forget it.
It was in December when former head coach Mike Johnston became just that; former head coach.
Enter Mike Sullivan and enter a world of change.
When the Penguins made the acquisition of Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi, I, along with everyone else, was absolutely stunned that deal was ever accepted. One of the first cases of unpenalized larceny I've ever witnessed.
When the Penguins made the acquisition of Carl Hagelin for David Perron and Adam Clendening, I was furious. I am a huge Perron fan and didn't see the point in trading two players for one. I guess that's why I'll never be an NHL general manager.
When the Penguins called up Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matt Murray, I was sure that one of them would make a huge impact. Care to take a guess on the obvious?
All of these lineup changes in the season proved to be the exact turning point that was needed. Speed, speed, and speed. There was a youthful exuberance brought to the club. Every player upped their game.
It was a sight to behold.
And must we recap the crazy ride we've all just been on? I don't think so, simply for the fact that we're still riding on that high.
For every moment of doubt I had in this team, I take it back. For every time I faulted one player or singled out another for poor performance, I take it back.
I started watching the Penguins in 2007-08 and that is still my favorite team. Don't get me wrong though, this team is absolutely special.
This team is absolutely special. The hardships and pressures they battled through all season long prove that they are from the Steel City. Every single player on that roster, playing in the Finals or watching from the press box, made invaluable contributions to this championship team, no matter how large or small those contributions were.
This team is absolutely special. When you look at the character they share on the ice and off, the bond they have formed with one another, you can't help but feel that they are a part of your family. Yes, we are fans, but we've adopted this team and we stuck with them for every step of the way, no matter how rocky the path got at times.
This team is absolutely special. Looking at the roster, this team, in its entirety, will be returning. I have no doubt in my mind that Justin Schultz and Ben Lovejoy will return. I have no doubt in my mind that Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin are staying pat in Pittsburgh. I have a sneaky suspicion that Matt Cullen has one more go in him. This family will not become divided next season.
This team is absolutely special. They are resilient, fast, bonded as a family and they are, and will forever be the 2016 Stanley Cup Champions.
Let's Go Pens.