There are few cities in this country that can claim its hockey team has as rabid a fan base as its football team. Pittsburgh is one of those cities.
Unfortunately, over the past few months, the Steelers and Penguins have had more than their respective shares of player drama.
After the Men of Steel cleaned house with the trade of Antonio Brown and the free agent departure of Le’Veon Bell, they drew rave reviews for their draft and filling out their depth charts on the defense. After those moves, it sure looks like life should be good in Steeler country until at least July 26 when training camp opens at Saint Vincent College.
Much like their counterparts on the gridiron, the Penguins had their season come to a much earlier end than their fans had expected with a roster full of stars. While there was much less negative attention in both the press and on social media spewing from their leading men, there was obvious discontentment from those inside and outside the locker room.
It quickly became clear that anyone aside from Sidney Crosby was fair game for a trade in an effort to extend the championship window for No. 87. Three of the biggest names on the chopping block have been Malkin, Kessel and Letang.
Last week, the first head rolled and it belonged to Kessel, who wound up getting moved to a location in Arizona he himself has expressed as a preferred landing spot after his time with the Pens. Will either of the other two big names be on different rosters next season? Only time will tell.
However, I would not be surprised if both players are still in Black and Gold in October. Kessel really seemed to be the top candidate to be shown the door considering a lack of team depth at both center and defense. The Olli Maatta trade also seemed to point towards the direction the team was leading in terms of its next big move.
Much like the Steelers replacing the likes of Brown and Bell with Donte Moncrief and Benny Snell, as well as turning over top jobs to the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, the Pens are also eager to introduce some new names to their fans. Dominik Kahun and Alex Galchenyuk join Pittsburgh’s stable of wingers and have both expressed the desire to play with hall of fame-worthy incumbents like Crosby and Malkin.
Another forward, former Winnipeg Jet Brandon Tanev, is a gritty 27-year-old that some experts believe is going to be an instant fan favorite thanks to his willingness to block shots and his excellence on the penalty kill.
With the wings restocked, it would be nice to see the team try to take what resources they have left and address the defense. The team is clearly committed to the goalies they have on the roster, which means the blue liners have to be better than they have been in recent seasons.
Both Penguin and Steeler fans should be pretty happy with the way the two offseasons have gone as we move into July. Problem players are gone. New, hungrier, younger players are now on the rosters and supporters are eager to see how these changes will play out.
The only real losers in this situation are the Pirates, who are actually playing some pretty solid ball with their own young up-and-comers starting to establish themselves as the franchise’s new core. But, those are the breaks for a franchise that, despite being the oldest in the city, plays third fiddle to the guys in pads and helmets.