'Twas the week before Christmas and all throughout the NHL, everyone is wondering why the Pittsburgh Penguins are 15-12-3 after 30 games.
Any sports team laden with that much talent should be sitting atop the standings, not fifth in the Metropolitan Division, 13 points behind the leader. Granted, the team they are chasing, the Washington Capitals, is no slouch in the talent department, either, but the Penguins, well - that's Sidney Crosby's team. When you're the league's marquee player, you either live up to your reputation or tongues begin flapping like a murder of crows.
Speaking of murder, the team fired coach Mike Johnston last week, and replaced him with former Boston Bruins coach Mike Sullivan. During an era where players make so much money, benching them for poor performance is not an option. So, the heads of coaches roll with alarming regularity; Johnston lasted a mere 18 months as bench boss.
Firing the coach a little over a third of the way through the season is usually a symptom of bigger problems. There is no shortage of those in Pittsburgh this season. The most glaring is Crosby's soporific start - six goals and 13 assists for a total of 19 points in 30 games. Crosby's new wing man, Phil Kessel, isn't faring much better with nine goals and 9 assists. Evgeni Malkin is cruising along with 27 points, but defenseman Kris Letang has only 14 points, which are nullified by an embarrassing plus/minus stat of minus 14 over 25 games.
The injury bug has hit the team pretty hard as well. Veteran Pascal Dupuis called it a career in early December after blood clot issues caused him to miss most of last season, and struggle through the early part of this one. The team lost goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion, and forward Beau Bennett to an upper body injury during Monday's loss to the division-leading Caps.
In addition to firing their coach, the team made a hasty trade with the Blackhawks, sending veteran blueliner Rob Scuderi to Chicago, getting defenseman Trevor Daley in return.
As if that weren't enough to deal with, owner Mario Lemieux is reportedly shopping the team, hoping to get at least six times what he paid ($109 million) in 1999. He should be able to, easily, considering the team plays in a new arena, consistently sells out its games, and has a lucrative cable deal in place until the 2028-29 season.
It is worth pointing out that it is still too early to go into a full-blown panic attack over all this. After all, the last time the Pens replaced a coach mid-season, in 2009, they won the Cup. Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien in February that season, and everyone lived happily ever after.
It's hard to put a finger on why a team with so much talent is floundering. It's not an uncommon scenario in sports when too many star players together on one team seem to offset, rather than compliment one another. I was certain the addition of Phil Kessel would provide the jolt the team needed to propel it forward. Maybe Kessel dragged bad Toronto karma with him, or maybe Sid the Kid and Super Mario are not the buds they once were. Something is definitely awry, but at this point, it's not anything stringing together a few wins wouldn't cure.
The beauty part of the NHL is that the regular season is merely a warm-up for the playoffs. The "second season" as it is known, can produce the unlikeliest of winners, turning regular season struggles into distant, forgettable nightmares. April is a long way off.
Nava is a freelance writer based in the American Pacific Northwest. She loves to watch and write about hockey because she is also Canadian. During the off-season, Nava loves to cross-border shop, drink gallons of Tim Horton's coffee, and contemplate jumping in her car and driving to Alaska.