Even on a good day, I would likely have a difficult time celebrating a Penguins Stanley Cup win. But this year, yeah, frustrating beyond….
I am not a conspiracy theorist with sports. Full stop.
Professional sports are entertainment – and entertainment is a business. It’s not about the highest level of raw competition for the players, although that’s sometimes a nice outcome it produces and does satisfy one of the key stakeholders in that the players are labor and labor does need some type of motivation and gratification. But, it’s about making money. The owners and the other investors in the league need to make money. Making money can be accomplished in a variety of ways, one of which can be leveraging the outcomes, both good and bad, of the marketable properties, meaning the players and franchises.
It was in the league’s best interest for the Penguins to win. I’m not saying they definitely manipulated the entire season to ensure it but I wouldn’t be surprised if along they there wasn’t a bit of slight of hand to provide advantages.
After all, why would the league chance pissing off 29 other franchises worth of fans and discrediting their brand by promoting a reality show rather than a competitive sport?
They wouldn’t which is why I don’t buy into this massive, high level conspiracies. There’s too much for the NHL or any league to lose by doing it.
However, like I alluded too, there’s all the great underpinning story lines that they might…
Take, for example, the Penguins ownership situation. The current group is lead by a franchise and league legend. Lemieux and his group purchased the team 16 years ago on the brink of imploding riding huge debt resulting in bankruptcy, low attendance and the threat of a move to Kansas City. After taking control of the team and tanking a few seasons to ensure high draft picks that resulted in generational talents becoming part of the new core Lemieux’s ownership group was riding high. They had improved attendance, a new arena and a Stanley Cup to go along with the legend of Sidney Crosby.
It was like the high flying 90s for the franchise all over again. And it seemed as good a time as any to think about cashing in on the investment. Rumors of a sale were floating. And then, the long, slow backslide of the franchise. Several seasons of early exists. Decreased attendance. And a financial situation that wasn’t necessarily enviable both in player contracts and in other debt.
Knowing the current ownership group of the Pens wants to sell badly AND that they have the expectation of pulling a record 750$M for the team it’s in the best interest to help jack up the worth which Forbes estimated as 10th in the league at 535$M.
It’s obvious that it’s in the best interest of the league to provide the outgoing owners with the best possible situation for the franchise. It’s not just about the huge sum of money at stake but also the leverage to select a new ownership group that could stewart the team to further success in Pittsburgh as opposed to having to take less money from a less desirable owner who might not maintain the franchise or worse, move it.
A sweatheart set of moves last offseason seemed to set the stage – not only did were they able to circumvent their salary cap constraints they did so in landing some absolutely key players. After an abysmal beginning to the season they were gifted a seamless coaching change that righted them in the standings. They drew what many considered an easy first round opponent and other than the Caps what looked like one of the easier pathways to the finals on paper.
Making the Finals alone though isn’t enough to restore the lustre to the franchise and seal it’s top value. Only a win gives the perception of it’s former glory and provides the ample leverage to adequately hype a sale.
It’s also a great story line for marketing for the league. Not only would a winning franchise be changing hands which makes the transition to new ownership easier but it allows the superstar former owner to go out on top a winner once again. It keeps that great legacy alive and just adds to the legend of Mario Lemieux.
Furthermore, it resurrects the image of the franchise to elite status again. Since the lockout and, moreso back-to-back Cup appearances when Crosby first joined the league the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have both eclipsed the Penguin’s success in achieving multiple Stanley Cups while the Red Wings continue to be the perennial playoff team to knock off with more consecutive post season appearances, more play off rounds played in and just the shear volume of consistency to their performance with the best winning percentage over that time. Then theres consistent teams like Anaheim who broke through once and are still in a position to keep winning. Pittsburgh’s struggles with their front office and coaching alone with other team’s successes had taken them from the rarified air that only another Cup could possibly help resurrect them too.
There’s more potential upside to promoting the dynasty type of storyline than there is necessarily having a team win their first ever Stanley Cup, sorry San Jose and Washington. Even if those teams have great players who are deserving of having one. Sorry Jumbo Joe and Ovi.
As much as it would be nice to get Jumbo a win before he retires or give a smaller market of long suffering a win like SJ the stakes are much higher to salvage the situation in Pittsburgh in as many ways as possible.
And, that’s really the other part of it. Joe Thorton is good, very good, elite at times eve, but not great. Crosby is supposedly great. And, great needs to cement it’s legacy before good can be rewarded for being good.
From a marketing standpoint, Crosby’s one of the faces of the league and yet as of late he’s been eclipsed by the threat of McDavid’s impending dominance, the now tarnished image of Kane and even his arch-rival Ovechkin.
Since it’s obvious that Crosby’s play isn’t going to win him too may more personal achievements the way it seems McDavid is destined or Ovechkin has been able to remain in the rarified air as a scorer and individual producer like Kane on the ice the only way to lift Crosby back into the greatest conversation is another team achievement to flaunt. That would be the Stanley Cup that nullified the widening gap between him and Ovechkin’s individual achievements while taking some of the sting off of the Kane situation overall.
The league needed something big for Crosby to retain his “best” mantle to retain that face of the league kind of marketing image for him and there just wasn’t anything else close out there storyline wise for the league on a player level they could flaunt. They aren’t ready for Ovi yet, McDavid’s Oilers were too much of a disaster to make a cinderella run, Kane was already going to cause controversy with his run-away regular season after last off-season’s antics and Jumbo Joe isn’t retiring so it’s not an imminent need. That’s why Crosby was gifted the MVP despite the ample evidence to the contrary that stated Couture was clearly the best all-around player on the ice and the most valuable to the winning team was more likely their upstart goalie. Crosby wasn’t even within the top ten in achievement or team value of the guys who played through the finals, but he was certainly the easiest one to give the award to for the value his name on it would carry for the team and the league moving forward.
That’s not to say, of course, that the league manipulated every game along the way to ensure the franchise and their star player re-found success. But, you can see the huge advantages it plays for them when it happens.
So, if watching it happen at the expense of teams and players who deserve it just as much for different and obviously less financially driven reasons it’s easy to see why some fans might see a conspiracy. Me, I’m just bitter. Exceptionally bitter. Bitter that a over-valued player on an over-valued franchise won again while I’m left in anguish on another early exit that comes on the heals of what was another record setting regular season. Bitter because I’ll be stuck listening to insufferable bandwagoners flaunt the team’s success as some kind of benchmark for what the “new” NHL will be and give excess credit to a player who’s contributions were secondary, at best, to the recent success of the franchise itself. Bitter because until the cup is passed to the next team (which will hopefully be next year) I’ll be stuck with the Penguins being called champions and Sindey Crosby being called MVP at the expense of what were better teams and much better players throughout the entirety of the season and post-season itself.