A team that the survival of hockey as one of America's 'big four' sports depends upon. While hockey will always prosper north of the border and in cities with hockey traditions such as Detroit, Boston, Mineapolis, and Pittsburgh itself, the sports has struggled in other markets. Basketball went through the same problems in the late 1970s and it saved itself because of a dream team- Larry Bird's Boston Celtics. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the savior for hockey.
The Pens started life in 1966 when hockey finally decided to change from an elitist sport with 6 teams to one that had potentional for national popularity. From 1966-1980, the team struggled. Ownership changed hands several times and the team had a bankruptcy. Playoff berths were hard to find. The team did have some success on the ice in the early 1970s, but the Pens of this point in time are most known for the biggest choke in hockey history, blowing a 3-0 series lead in the conference semifinals to the New York Islanders.
Things changed in 1980, when the famous DeBartolo family bought the Penguins. After some brief success early in their ownership, the team tanked, but got a tremendous reward for it in 1983- Mario Lemieux. Super Mario helped bring desensitized fans back to the seats after years of losing and instability. Despite his amazing play, it took him until 1988 to put the Penguins in the playoffs for the first time. That year, Lemieux scored 199 points, just missing becoming only the second player to hit the 200 point plateau. At this point, the DeBartolos decided to put some pieces around Lemieux. Big names young and old such as Jagr, Francis, Recchi, Coffee, Samuelson, and Barasso. In 1991 and 1992, everything came together and the Pens won a pair of Stanley Cups.
The 1990s had their ups and downs for the Pens. The DeBartolos sold the Pens to flamboyant owner Howard Baldwin. Druing Baldwins ownership, the team made the playoffs ever year, including a ridiculously successfly but disappointing 1993, when the team picked up 119 points and the President's Trophy, but played poorly in the playoffs. Mario Lemieux battled cancer, then suffered a debilitating back injury. Yet he played on, winning 6 scoring titles. When Lemieux retired due to the back problems, Jaromir Jagr stepped up as a hero and won 4 scoring races on his own.
In December 1998, things got hair for the Pens, as the free-spending Howard Baldwin has run out of money. With the team bankrupt and things uncertain for next season, the team played on, making another playoff run. Mario Lemieux came back to save the Pens once again. With help from billionaire Ron Burkle, Lemieux purchased the Pens from bankruptcy court, saving them from relocation. With the team's finances in horrible shape, Lemieux's group had trouble keeping together the team but left together allowed the franchise to make the playoffs the next year.
In December 2000, Mario Lemieux returned to the ice, rejoining the Pittsburgh Penguins as a player-owner. Although the Pens had been forced to dump off some stars, the still contained Jagr and now Lemieux. The rode the big momentum of stardom to an amazing playoff run that came up just short of a Stanley Cup finals apperence.
After the amazing 2000-2001 season, the Pens finances were in dire straights. Jagr was traded and the team's stars were depleted. For 3 straight seasons, the Pens were among the league's worst, unable to afford to compete. However, the franchise aquired numerous young stars, which would be helpful in the future.
After the NHL lockout, the Pens returned to the ice with some hope. They had just aquired the biggest star since Lemieux himself, Sidney Crosby. While the season didn't go well, Crosby played amazingly. However, uncertainty surrounded the team going into the 2006-07 season, as it was a possibility that the team would relocated. On the ice, Crosby was joined by big young stars, including Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and the team suddenly prospered. However, fans were agonized, over the relocation crisis. Luckily, on 3-13-07, the Pens and the politicans reach a deal to build a new arena and keep the team in town.
The future is bright indeed for the Penguins, as they are drawing comparisions to the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s, a team that won 4 champsionships. Crosby has already won a scoring title, Malkin is bound to be rookie of the year, and Lord Stanley's Cup awaits in the near future.
Sidney Crosby. Need I say more? The Pittsburgh Penguins are hockey's saving grace.
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