The future of the Pittsburgh Penguins is emerging just to the southeast of The Igloo, aka Mellon Arena. The new building that Mario Lemieux willed to become a reality is progressing nicely, taking shape each day in plain view of the city's bustling downtown.
On the side of the skeletal structure that faces the 48-year-old current home of Penguins hockey is a large photo banner that features the team's three biggest stars: Sidney Crosby(notes), Evgeni Malkin(notes) and Marc-Andre Fleury(notes). The larger-than-life display says it all, without any words. As good as this Stanley Cup season felt for the Steel City, the future is even brighter with the young Pens moving toward the prime of their careers while the team relocates to a plush arena by 2010.
That's a scary reality for the other 29 NHL franchises that knew this day was coming, just not so fast.
"That's a great thought, and it's a dream," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "But there's a lot of hard work and building and laying a foundation every year that goes into every year.
"It doesn't happen without building that foundation on Day 1 and Day 2. They just don't hand you a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals again the second year."
Bylsma isn't trying to rain on the team's championship parade on Monday, it's just the coach coming out in him. The nature of his job allows for enjoying these things less time than others because tomorrow requires planning and yesterday eventually becomes a distraction.
The 38-year-old ex-player fell into a nice situation. His successful work with the team's top minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre Scranton made Bylsma the obvious choice once management decided to fire Michel Therrien in mid-February. Maybe it was the same message no longer getting heard, but the team certainly responded to a new voice. The major change in systems featured the Pens going away from a more defensive stance to trying to dictate tempo more by turning all the horses loose.
It worked so well that a team mired in 10th place at midseason was able to rally and repeat as Eastern Conference champs and go one better this season in beating a tired-looking Detroit group in an entertaining seven-game Finals.
In becoming only the third team in league history to win the ultimate deciding game on the road, the Pens, captained by Crosby, validated all those claims made that a Cup was in their future.
"It's not easy to be in the spotlight like he is at a young age, almost preordained," Bylsma said of the 21-year-old Crosby. "It's difficult. There's lots of focus. There's lots of scrutiny. There are lots of demands. [Crosby] is a great player, and he's a determined player. But to kind of evolve and get the Stanley Cup, I think it's, for him and Geno [Malkin] and Flower [Fleury], too, there's a lot of scrutiny about these guys and a lot of question marks about these guys at different times.
"Hopefully this erases some of those questions for a lot of people, because these kids earned it. Not just because they're good players. They earned it because they sacrificed and they battled and they worked and they're playing as a team. They've learned, they've grown, and in a very short time period early in their career, they got a Cup."
The best news for Pittsburgh is general manager Ray Shero has far less to do this season to keep the core group together than the salary-cap magic he had to perform last summer. The big names are locked up for multiple seasons – Fleury for six more through 2014-15, Malkin and defenseman Brooks Orpik(notes) through 2013-14, Crosby and Jordan Staal(notes) through 2012-13. Others with deals in place include Chris Kunitz(notes) (2011-12), Tyler Kennedy(notes), Pascal Dupuis(notes) and Eric Godard(notes) (all through 2010-11) and Sergei Gonchar(notes), Mark Eaton and Kris Letang(notes) (all through next season).
Shero has decisions to make in potential unrestricted free agents, and that list is long – it includes Rob Scuderi(notes), Ruslan Fedotenko(notes) and Bill Guerin(notes) – but outside of Scuderi and possibly Fedotenko, the Pens should be able to reload for less payout and be just as strong.
"Depth is really important as much as star power is," losing Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the Penguins' future. "But what they've got going for them right now are good players and good players attract good players.
"Sometimes when it's a good situation, a good building coming, a good owner, good general manager, maybe you can get guys to come for less."
The notion of a dynasty, too, is too premature. The Wings probably would have qualified for that tag with a win on home ice in Game 7. It would have meant a second straight Cup, their fifth in 12 seasons and 12th overall. Had they not let a one-goal lead in Game 5 against Anaheim slip away during the West finals two years ago, they could well have been going for a third straight Cup on Friday.
That, however, is no longer here or there. The spotlight shifts to the East and on a young roster that overcame 2-0 deficits in two series and all the critics who discounted their ability to rise to the challenge.
"We're going to sit back and relish the moment," Bylsma said. "We're going to get our names put on that Cup, and we'll all get our day with that, and what that means to us.
"In short order, I'm sure, come September we'll get ready to start building the foundation again for what this team could possibly do. But that's a whole different thing right now. We're going to enjoy this one."
Just the same, don't be surprised if there are more to enjoy as well.