Lacing Up: "A Little Of The Glory Of..."
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: Josh, Bruce Springsteen is a man of many hits, but my favorite is “Glory Days.” As cliche as it is, it really does take me back to my childhood years listening to it. Today, as we begin yet another “Lacing Up” discussion, the tune is playing in the background, and it has me thinking back to hockey in the 1990s. Maybe they weren’t the glory days that I recall — after all, there were two work stoppages in that decade — but I sure do have some fond memories.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe just how loaded with talent some of the early-90s Penguins teams really were. We’re talking about Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, Brian Trottier, and Larry Murphy all sharing a locker room at one time. That’s six Hall of Famers, not to mention other All-Star talents, such as Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens, and Tom Barrasso. How the hell did Scott Bowman (also a Hall of Famer and the winningest coach of all time) find ice time for all of them en route to their second consecutive Stanley Cup in 1992? What’s crazy, though, is that the 1993 collection of stars that flopped in the playoffs was arguably the better squad — possibly the best in the history of the game, according to many. Unreal, eh?
Joshua Neal: If you just listed those players’ statistics without putting their names in front of me, I think you’d have a hard time explaining to me that yes, they did in fact all play for the same team, and at the same time! One thing about the history of the Penguins and their “Glory Days” as it were is that when the days weren’t gloryful, they were horrible. It’s a history marked by feasts and famines. The end of that decade brought about the hockey equivalent of the stock market crash of 1929, as the roster was then filled with guys who probably would have been better suited sharpening Larry Murphy’s skates or waxing Scotty Bowman’s head. However, that was one heck of a roster for sure, and let’s dwell on the good stuff for now. Here’s my question, as you’ve brought up the ’92 Cup Champion Pens and the ’93 Juggernaut that faltered early in the playoffs: Which one do you take if you’ve gotta pick? – (given that you’re playing the game with current rules adjustments, if that has any impact.)
Matt: Without the assistance of hockeydb.com, the easy answer is the ’92 Penguins, as their lineup included a goalie in his prime, the world’s best player (arguably) in his prime, and a supporting cast of Hall of Famers. The team had skill and grit, which equal the necessary components for today’s NHL. Oh yeah, and they were proven playoff winners. But man, that ’93 team took all that was good with the ’92 Penguins and then added a level of experience and success that combined to equal swagger. Both teams were built, in my opinion, to stand the test of time — and, as such, would hold up well in today’s NHL. Could you imagine a team with two power forwards with the pedigree of Stevens and Tocchet to compliment a skilled trio in Lemieux, Jagr, and Francis who will go down as three of the top forwards ever? Oh yeah, and there was a defenseman with 75+ points and another with 200-plus penalty minutes of downright mean. That combination does not exist in today’s NHL. But as crazy as it sounds, the Penguins might just be the team with the most similarities to those rosters.
Think about it, you have Crosby and Malkin as the game’s two most dominant forwards. Add in James Neal as on of the most feared pure goal scorers, and a trio is formed. Kunitz may not be a power forward in the mold of Stevens or Tocchet, but he’s today’s hybrid version, which includes a smaller package, a quicker set of wheels, and a walloping check. On defense, Orpik is as mean as they come, and Letang is as capable as anyone in the game today at creating offense from the back end. So let me flip your question around, Josh, and ask you if today’s Penguins could hop in a time machine and hold their own in ’92 or ’93. Could they win the Cup back in the “Glory Days,” so to speak?
Josh Definitely an interesting thing to think about, Matt. In a lot of ways, the pace at which the Pens were putting goals on the board (and letting them in, for that matter) at the end of last year’s regular season after Crosby had rejoined the team was reminiscent not just of those ’93 Pens but of the game of hockey in the early 90’s as a whole. Even though the defensemen then had much more free reign to obstruct players (and in some ways things seem to be leaning back that direction), there is seldom a time on “This Day in Pens’ History” with a game where 5 goals are on the board on at least one side of the scoring column. The 7-6 finishes and double-digit goal nights were something that came much more frequently back then, and for that reason I think that the Penguins team today could put up some nice numbers.
While they’d probably prosper in those kind of times, I’m not sure that model has been all that successful in bringing home Cups. Back then, as we saw with the ’93 Pens and even the ’11 Pens, balance seems to be the key. And if it’s not balance, then defense seems to be a lot more reliable because it doesn’t fall susceptible to the ever-present “hot goalie” that always seems to emerge in the playoffs.
Another tough one about the Glory Days, Matt. Your television gets two channels. On one channel, you have the ’92 Cup clinching game. On the second, you’ve got the ’09 Game 7 against Detroit. Which one are you tuned into? Oh yeah, and the batteries in the remote are dead, so you’re stuck with just one.
Matt: If the remote batteries are dead, how did I turn on the TV? And, even if I managed to salvage enough juice out of the batteries to turn on the TV, wouldn’t I be stuck with the channel previously selected? Josh, you’re slacking here…come on!
Seriously, though, that’s a legit question, and one that requires considerable thought — which is why I chose to read this question Thursday evening and mull it over through the night before responding Friday morning. My conclusion: I’d want to watch the ’92 Cup clinching game. Why? Because of the memories associated with it. The most recent Cup victory was as sweet (if not sweeter) than the other two, if only because of the fact that the Penguins lost one year earlier to the same opponent and because the series started out in almost identical fashion. But it’s fresh in my memory, and many of the players remain with the Penguins, and most of those who have moved on remain in the NHL. In other words, I still can see these players (when not in lockout mode, of course) whenever I want. The same can’t be said of the ’92 team. And that’s precisely why the Winter Classic Alumni game has become such a popular event each year: fans desire to see their favorite players of years gone by play one more time. So, without a doubt, I’d choose to watch Lemieux and crew take care of the Blackhawks in Game 4.
So, Josh, to turn this conversation in one final direction before we sign off for a few days, if you could see one Penguin of the “Glory Days” skate with the current squad — and let’s remove Lemieux and Jagr from the conversation — who would it be, and why?
Josh: I’ve always been a fan of something that the Penguins had with that 1992 team that they’ve struggled to replicate since then. Even though Kevin Stevens isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the net-front finisher is a specialist that this particular Penguins team is still searching for. We discussed it when we talked about the future for Tangradi, and I sincerely hope he can someday be mentioned in the same breath as Stevens, but I also understand that is a long way’s work away. This Penguin team today has a lot of similarities in some positions to the ’92 team. It’s hard to draw that parallel, in many ways because our memories grow fonder and it’s hard to take a team from now and superimpose it over that. However, the one difference I think stands out most prevalently is that net-front scoring presence. Instead of banging home rebounds or finishing plays by Jagr or Lemieux, I think we’d see some pretty good numbers from Stevens in skating with these Pens – even if the goals themselves aren’t all that pretty.
Oh yeah, and I really wouldn’t mind watching Jay Caufield go a couple rounds with some of today’s enforcers, either. Those hands aren’t nearly as demonstrative or impactful with the postgame telestration as they were back in ’92. But I guess that the Glory Days pass you by no matter what you specialize in, eh?