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Penguins: Are The Fans Still Interested?

Posted By Michael Waterloo On Mar 5 2011 @ 7:27 pm In Pittsburgh | 2 Comments

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two months, you know that the Pittsburgh Penguins have suffered some major setbacks in what started off as a great season with high expectations.  Now, of course, injuries are a common thing that every team in every sport has to battle.  The Super Bowl had a matchup of two of the more injury-depleted teams in the league and both were able to overcome them.  When it comes the Pens, however, the thing that makes their injury situation different than the Super Bowl teams is that they lost their two top players on the team and arguably two of the top-five players in all of hockey, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  While it is already known that Malkin is out for the remainder of the season, people are still holding faith that Crosby will return from the concussion which has kept him sidelined since early January.  For a city that is known to be one of the most faithful and loyal to their teams, I’m wondering how the injuries have affected the fans’ feelings on the Penguins.

For the first half of the season, all I would see on Facebook or Twitter, or hear from my friends, is the excitement they had for the Penguins and that they will be glued to the television this season to watch them play.  As of late, however, I just don’t see the same level of enthusiasm or excitement for when the Penguins play.  Since the injuries to Crosby and Malkin (as well as others, but they aren’t as big a factor), the ratings for the Penguins games have dropped significantly.  The Penguins still have the highest TV audience per game in the league, but it does bother me that the interest around the city has diminished.  In December, my friend Tyler was able to sell his ticket for double the face value when the Rangers came into town.  When the Sharks came to the Consol Energy Center in late February, he wasn’t able to sell  for even face value.  It’s not like it was the Oilers or some horrible team, but it was the Sharks, one of the top teams in the entire league!  It is an obvious drop-off in talent without Crosby, Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz in the lineup, but the Penguins still have the third-most points in the Eastern conference.

Each season, my Uncle David allows me to select a couple games from his season ticket package to go to, and this year I took the Devils game in December and the Sabres game for this coming Tuesday.  I got the Sabres game tickets to take my dad as his Christmas present and he was especially excited to see his first Penguins game in their new arena.  We obviously weren’t anticipating that the two stars wouldn’t be playing but we are just as excited to go to the game as we were before.  What would happen to the fan-base if Malkin doesn’t re-sign in a couple years and if, for some reason, Crosby demands more than the Penguins can pay?  I think the Malkin scenario is likely to happen and I do feel that Crosby will remain a Penguin for his career, but what if he isn’t?

While many think of the recent success the Penguins have had, not many think of or remember the dark years here in Pittsburgh.  We have, in fact, been spoiled by players like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, Marc-Andre Fleury, Crosby and Malkin.  In fact, the Penguins fans have been spoiled in this respect moreso than any other team in hockey in recent memory.  However, what some seem to forget is that the period between the Lemieux and Crosby eras was a rough time.  Between 2001 and 2007, the Penguins didn’t make the playoffs even one time.  It was just as easy to score Penguin tickets as it is Pirate tickets now.  Of course they weren’t as good and the chances of seeing them win with a cast of players like Rico Fata, Kris Beech, Kelly Buchberger, Ramzi Abid, Milan Kraft and Jean-Sebastien Aubin, but it was still hockey.

General Manager Ray Shero made some moves at the trade deadline this season to acquire James Neal, Matt Niskanen and former Penguin Alex Kovalev to show that he isn’t throwing the towel in on the season.  Without Crosby and Malkin, this is still a good team.  The team that we see on the ice now is what most teams around the league have, talent-wise, when they are fully healthy.  Do I believe that the Penguins can win a Stanley Cup without Crosby?  No, but I do feel that they can win a playoff series or two given the right matchups.  If you are a fan through the good times, then stick with your team through the bad times, as well.  While I’m sure the ratings will go back up for the playoffs, it would be nice to see them stay up for the whole year.  Even though the injuries and the season took a bad turn for us fans, most teams would still love to have the point total that the Penguins do.

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