Know this about Penguin owner Howard Baldwin: When the going got tough, he did not woo Mike Keenan. He did not order a fire sale of his aging, high-salaried roster. Nor did he try to shake down the city of Pittsburgh for a handout when playoff revenue dried up and fan support sagged. Instead, Baldwin, to the surprise of many of his own players, did very little at all.
Spared a roster shake-up after a second straight early exit from the playoffs following the team's 1991 and '92 Cup championships, the Penguins have charged out of the chute to a 10-0-1 mark as of Sunday, the franchise's best start in its 28-year history. They have done it with the same graying cast that went belly-up against Washington in last spring's playoffs.
"Time is running out," says defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. "We're getting older, and the payroll is high [about $20 million]. We understand we can't live off the two Stanley Cups forever."
Herewith are the major reasons for the Penguin revival:
?The savvy of general manager Craig Patrick. One day before the Pens were eliminated by Washington, the team held a players-only meeting and addressed the possibility of an impending roster shake-up. "It was like planning your own funeral," says one Penguin.
However, where some players saw a dying dynasty, Patrick, one of the game's shrewdest minds, saw a nucleus fit enough to make another run at the Cup. With Baldwin's blessings, Patrick refused to dismantle the roster during the off-season, trading only forward Rick Tocchet to Los Angeles for forward Luc Robitaille, who averages 49 goals a season.
Later Patrick filled out his roster by reacquiring two former Penguins, center John Cullen and defenseman Chris Joseph, discarded veterans who have responded with strong starts.
?The absence of Mario Lemieux. When Lemieux, suffering from chronic fatigue after cancer treatments, announced in August that he would sit out this season, his teammates understood they would have to fend for themselves.
Settling snugly into Lemieux's former role as The Franchise has been Jaromir Jagr, 23, who signed a five-year, $19.5 million contract last summer. At week's end Jagr had 20 points and—along with center Ron Francis (19 points) and goalie Ken Wregget (who has played every minute of all 11 games)—had spearheaded the club's explosive launch. "He's the best forward in the game," says Islander coach Lorne Henning. "Now he's showing the ability to take over games on a nightly basis."