I believe that all sports franchises go through three phases. The rebuild, the push, the legacy. On Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Penguins entered the legacy phase of what has been one of the most dominant teams in hockey history. And it’s ok.
The Penguins managed to draft no less than 4 generational Hall of Fame players in a span of five years unlocked four trips to the Stanley Cup Final and brought home three of them.
They managed to be in the push phase since 2006! That is well over fifteen years of attempting to contend for a Stanley Cup. And at the center of those years, were four names, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
In 2018 the Penguins attempted to expand that push window and said goodbye to one cornerstone of that legacy. It didn’t work, and by doing so they sent a future Hall of Famer to an expansion team and officially tarnished his legacy as a Penguin.
This off-season they were faced with the same decision but this time with the 2 more pieces of that sixteen-year legacy. Would they move on from Letang and Malkin in a desperate attempt to extend the “push” phase? In spite of the fact that their prospect pool is bone dry and their generational captain is in the golden days of his career.
Instead, they chose to preserve a legacy. To make sure that Letang and Malkin never wear another sweater. To make sure that 71 and 58 hang in the rafters on either side of 87. They decided to do what was right for the franchise.
For those of you new around here in Pittsburgh Penguins folklore. There used to be an eccentric goal-scoring winger with a bountiful head of curly hair worn in a mullet. His name was Jaromir Jagr. When Jagr was a kid he played right here in Pittsburgh alongside the greatest player of a generation Mario Lemieux. But in 2001 a struggling franchise cut ties with the young star and soured their relationship with him forever. He would go on to become one of the greatest to ever lace up the skates. For the rest of his career, he jumped from team to team and even left the NHL. Now in his retirement, his number has no resting place. It has no home, it has no legacy.
This could have been the story of 71 and 58. But it won’t be, in fact, we can assure the future generations of hockey fans that when they look up into the dusty rafters of PPG Paints Arena they will see their franchise’s history represented not just in the banners boasting Stanley cup Championships but the men who made it possible.
That’s why these contracts needed to be signed, that’s why it matters.