PITTSBURGH – On the wall of the northeast corner of the dressing room of the Pittsburgh Penguins training facility are words that embody a championship mentality that has existed since Jim Rutherford took office as General Manager of the team in June 2014.
You read, "Code of Excellence", and the words "passion", "responsibility", "work ethic" and "commitment" written on the other walls of the room outline the recipe contained therein this code.
That's what the penguins are about. Here their path deviates from that of the Montreal Canadiens under General Manager Marc Bergevin because they set the bar at the Stanley Cup or bankruptcy and do it year after year, despite the fact that the salary cap has equalized the pitch and parity accepted. There are no management expectations in Pittsburgh. The penguins are not afraid to disappoint anyone other than themselves.
And yes, it is recognized that they have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as cornerstones, two of the most elitist players the National Hockey League has ever seen and two players in their prime.
But if there's a reason why this team defies expectations and cobbled together the fourth-best record of the NHL this season, though Crosby missed more than half of its games, Malkin missed 13 of them, and the former 40- Goalscorer Jake Guentzel 16 and counting (he's not expected before the playoffs) has a lot to do with what Jack Johnson said on Thursday.
"I think it is exactly what is expected of us," said the 33-year-old defender. "Regardless of who is in the lineup, we are expected to win."
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This is not just about the depth of the penguins, because there are many teams that boast a greater depth, but have broken down with injured key players. This is mainly about a standard that constantly demands more.
This is the standard that the owners Mario Lemieux and Ronald Burkle set. One president and CEO, David Morehouse, holds on to Rutherford and the one who is constantly reinforced for the players by head coach Mike Sullivan, his staff and the leadership group. It drives this whole operation.
"It's exactly the same if you come here," said Johnson, who signed a five-year, $ 16.25 million contract with Pittsburgh in the summer of 2018. "This team is expected to play and compete for the Stanley Cup." for that and that's the only thing we're looking for here. Half the league makes the playoffs. If you don't want to win the Stanley Cup every year, what do you do?
“I mean you obviously have to do the playoffs. It's not easy to play the playoffs. But if you don't play for the cup, you're wasting your time. And you really have to believe that you can win it, and every single man in the room has to believe in the same. If you make everyone believe, it's a powerful thing. "
The thing is that belief must first come from outside the room. It must come from the front office and from the top down, and the team must be led with this belief as a guiding principle.
With that in mind, Rutherford closed one of the season's biggest trades a few days ago – Jason Zucker from Minnesota Wild for a conditional selection in the first round, defense perspectives Calen Addison and 25-year-old Alex Galchenyuk. He paid a high price for a hit and accepted a contract that runs until 2023 and could complicate things from a team salary perspective in the future.
But it's about the here and now for the penguins, and it's the kind of movement that Sullivan and players have gotten used to since the recently launched Hall of Fame GM landed in Pittsburgh.
Rutherford's commitment to this ethos, with the owners' support always striving for it, drives the commitment of everyone else in the organization.
"Our players know we are trying to win and everyone here understands that this is the expectation," said Sullivan.
"We talk almost every day about how we're going to try to get better, and sometimes it's within the group itself, with what [we] has, and sometimes through a deal like Jim that was made the other day to acquire Jason. "He went on." But we constantly ask ourselves the question [those] [s]: "How do we improve? How do we get better? How can we advance the standard so that we can put this team in the best possible position?"
Because you don't get great if you only aim for good.
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people all over the hockey world and tell the audience everything about what they heard and what they think about it.
And if you strive for greatness and are only good in the end, it is much more acceptable than striving for good and falling short of this humble goal, as the Canadians are on the way, a third and a fourth season in a row reach time in five years.
It goes without saying that the pressure from the fan base in Pittsburgh is not quite as high as in ice hockey-crazy Montreal, but what the penguins impose on themselves consistently drives them to greater heights.
"It's something that can help or hurt you, but we use it to motivate and challenge us, and we have people who see it correctly," says Crosby. "I think it takes people who have the right mentality as a group and who try to get the best out of each other individually, and we tried to do this all year round."
It's what the penguins seem to do every year and what Canadians have done for decades to run the most successful franchise in NHL history.
It's time for this team in Montreal to be inspired by the penguins. It’s not good enough just to redesign the squad, it’s time for a change in the way they think about themselves and how they approach each season with the prospect of “let’s make and see the playoffs , what is happening".
It is what players need to move beyond their limits.
"This is a great organization and team, and we expect to win every year," said Patric Hornqvist, who has been with the penguins since the 2014-15 season. "It's the best environment you can be as a player in if you want to get more out of yourself."