Skip navigation

ORR TO CROSBY: NO PENGUIN CAN MARCH TO VICTORY ALONE A hockey legend passes on his advice about being patient, SHAWNA RICHER writes in the last chapter of The Globe's series on Sid the Kid's first NHL season

A hockey legend passes on his advice about being patient, SHAWNA RICHER writes in the last chapter of The Globe's series on Sid the Kid's first NHL season

PITTSBURGH

Hall of Fame legend and two-time Stanley Cup winner Bobby Orr has some words of advice for up-and-coming superstar Sidney Crosby: Be patient, kid. Building a championship team takes time and then some.

"It requires a lot," Mr. Orr, now a player agent and president of the Orr Hockey Group in Boston, said recently in an interview. "No one guy is going to turn around a team all by himself. We [the Boston Bruins] had a lot of things happen that went into us winning a Cup in the early years of my time there, and I was just one piece of it. In all my years around hockey, I haven't seen a team yet that can win a championship leaning on just one player, no matter how good he is."

The National Hockey League playoffs are under way, but Mr. Crosby's season with the Pittsburgh Penguins ended with a loss last week in Toronto. He will keep playing hockey, however, as long as he can, this time for Canada at the IIHF World Championships that begin May 5 in Latvia.

Even after posting one of the best rookie seasons ever by scoring 102 points and becoming the youngest player in history to hit 100 points, Mr. Crosby was sorely frustrated by his team's inability to win. The Penguins finished the season with 22 victories, 46 losses and 14 overtime losses, making them 29th out of 30 teams in the National Hockey League standings.

The most coveted No. 1 draft pick in decades was a tremendous player on a terrible team: What could he have scored on a good one? The club's second highest scorer, Russian defenceman Sergei Gonchar, had just 58 points. Only one other Penguin, veteran winger John LeClair, had more than 50 points (51). By contrast, the Detroit Red Wings, who captured the Presidents' Trophy for most wins, had eight players score more than 50 points.

"If there was one thing I wasn't completely prepared for, it was just how hard it is to win," Mr. Crosby said the day after the season ended.

"Every night, it's a tough battle. There are some nights where you can play well and still lose. Especially at this level, the teams are so competitive, each night you have to expect to have your best game and even with that you don't always win."

How quickly can a hockey team rebuild around one star? What can Mr. Crosby, who will turn 19 in August and is already its leader on and off the ice, expect from next season? Is it too soon to hope for a championship?

"We know we are not going to be up there with the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators next year," said coach Michel Therrien, who took over the Penguins in December after Eddie Olczyk was fired.

"We know we are in a position where we will be battling to make the playoffs. But we already have a good young core around Sidney. We have a good goaltender in Marc-André Fleury. We have a lot of the pieces, but we are young. In the summer, we will look at what else we are going to need to become a team that can contend in the playoffs."

The Penguins played much better as a team under Mr. Therrien, and had eight wins, 12 losses and three overtime losses after the Olympic break, even playing themselves out of last place overall in the season's final week.

Like Mr. Crosby, Mr. Orr was just 18 when he made his NHL debut in the 1966-67 season. Like Mr. Crosby, he excelled on a losing team.

But no one will forget how, just a few years later, in May, 1970, he led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in nearly three decades. One of the most famous sports photographs ever taken captured the handsome, crewcut defenceman flying outstretched through the air after being tripped as he scored the championship-winning goal in overtime. The team won again in 1971-72, as Mr. Orr again scored the Cup-winning goal.

"The right things need to happen to win a championship," Mr. Orr said. "It takes a team effort. We had Dallas Smith and Gary Doak and a lot of guys who weren't the ones you were reading about every day in the papers, but they were an important part of what we built and it couldn't have happened without them.

"If you look at the Penguins, they have [Evgeni] Malkin waiting to come over, Marc-André who is a very good goaltender, Colby Armstrong who can play with Crosby, and Ryan Whitney and Noah Welch, who are both pretty good young defencemen. They've got some good players; they're going to have to add a few more and develop some."

(Mr. Malkin, 19, the Penguins' No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft, is the best player not in the NHL and will be with the team if the league can work out a transfer agreement with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.)

Still, it doesn't always happen quickly. The Penguins won Mario Lemieux in the 1984 draft, but the playoffs eluded them another four seasons. It took seven years to capture the Cup. Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers and a young Wayne Gretzky built their dynasty much faster. Detroit waited an agonizing 14 years to win a Cup after adding first-round pick and eventual superstar Steve Yzerman.

The Penguins added talent around Mr. Lemieux year by year; one of the most important was goaltender Tom Barrasso from Buffalo in 1988.

The final pieces came when Penguins general manager Craig Patrick executed a six-player trade in March, 1991, and landed centre Ron Francis and defencemen Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings. The deal propelled the Penguins to their first of two consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

But the Penguins have not made it to the playoffs since 2001, and it was announced on Thursday that Mr. Patrick's contract would not be renewed after 17 years with the team.

"This was a difficult decision that we did not take lightly," CEO Ken Sawyer said. "It involved all the members of our board, and after much discussion we came to the same conclusion: It was time for a change.

"The job is more difficult than it's ever been. You need a hockey sense and the ability to recognize talent. We need someone who can negotiate. We need someone who is a great administrator; someone who is an excellent communicator, and on and on. It's a multifaceted job and a very important job."

Eddie Johnston, the Penguins assistant general manager and a goaltender on those championship Bruins teams, said a key trade with Chicago that brought in Phil Esposito, Kenny Hodge and Freddie Stanfield turned everything around for Boston.

"They came in and changed the whole thing along with Bobby," Mr. Johnston recalled. "Then we added Johnny McKenzie and Gerry Cheevers. One or two trades really made that team. That's all it took.

"You really have to get lucky when you're filling little spots that you get the right type of guys, on the ice and in the dressing room.

"That's what we thought we did this year, but it didn't work out. Mario had to retire. Johnny [LeClair] broke his cheekbone and then [Ziggy] Palffy quit. And our goalkeeper [Jocelyn Thibault] cost us some games early. That hurt us a lot."

The Penguins will pick second in the 2006 NHL entry draft on July 24 in Vancouver, although none of this year's prospects are expected to play in the NHL next season.

"The Penguins aren't far away at all from being a very good team and challenging in the playoffs," Mr. Orr said. "Sidney is very, very good, and he will lead that team.

"But Wayne didn't do it alone. Mario didn't do it alone and I didn't do it alone. In time, they're going to have one hell of a team, and all of a sudden you're going to say, 'Holy mackerel, are they ever an awesome team.' It takes time and patience, but they're not far away at all."

Turnaround time

The number of seasons it took highly touted rookies to win their first Stanley Cup:

4

BOBBY ORR: Joined Bruins in 1966-67; won in 1969-70

5

WAYNE GRETZKY: Joined Oilers in 1979-80; won in 1983-84

6

MARIO LEMIEUX: Joined Penguins in 1984-85; won in 1990-91

10

MIKE MODANO: Joined Stars in 1989-90; won in 1998-99

6

VINCENT LECAVALIER: Joined Lightning in 1998-99; won in 2003-04

Shawna Richer's book, The Rookie: A Season with Sidney Crosby and the New NHL, will be published by McClelland and Stewart in October.

Recommend this article? 0 votes

Back to top