Although the champagne is only beginning to dry on the Penguins’ jerseys, it’s time to talk legacies. The Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin era has now brought three Stanley Cup championships to Pittsburgh and the NHL’s first back-to-back title team in two decades. What we’ve witnessed is an impressive run for any team in any era, let alone in the age parity and the salary cap.
It’s hard to think of a more iconic hockey duo than Crosby and Malkin.
However, those in the dad-plus demo — fans in the age bracket of Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz and older — might see that meme on their desktop computer, say “Hold my beer” (completely unaware that is also a meme) and then write up an email forward explaining why it’s Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr who are actually Pittsburgh’s greatest hockey duo of all-time.
So which is it? Crosby and Malkin or Lemieux and Jagr? The new guys or the two old guys (one of which just so happens to still be playing at a high level)? Let’s break it down.
Crosby and Malkin have the edge 3-2 in Cups, which counts for a lot in these kind of #debates. Both duos were able to go back-to-back, with the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings as the only other franchise capable of doing so in the past 25 years of NHL hockey — a quarter century that has been book-ended by Penguins dominance. And even though these new Penguins lost the 2008 Cup Final to Detroit before winning in ’09, simply making it to the final round two years in a row twice is pretty impressive and deserves extra credit.
At the same time, the Lemieux-Jagr Penguins brought Pittsburgh its first Stanley Cup in franchise history, a massive accomplishment. And then there are the five Conn Smythe trophies that Lemieux, Malkin and Crosby have between them.
The verdict: Both the Lemieux-Jagr era Pens and these Crosby-Malkin Penguins produced an impressive trophy haul, and Pittsburgh is unbelievably fortunate to have experienced them both.
In eight trips to the postseason:
- Lemieux played 107 games and tallied 172 points.
- Jagr played in 130 postseason games in a Penguins jersey and put up 147 points.
- In a lower-scoring era, Crosby has 164 points in 148 playoff games over 10 consecutive postseason trips.
- Malkin has put up 157 points in 149 games over the same time period.
The verdict: While Lemieux and Jagr scored more points per game, adjusted for the current dead-puck era, it’s hard to say which duo did better in this category. What we can say is that both combos were outstanding and Pittsburgh has been blessed to get to see all four players perform in their primes.
The Supporting Casts
Hockey isn’t basketball. Two guys can’t win a championship on their own. However, it can say a lot about a player’s dominance and superiority if he is able to pull a second-rate group of teammates to a championship.
The Lemieux-Jagr Penguins won with some very talented teammates in Paul Coffey, Mark Recchi, Joe Mullen, Bryan Trottier, Larry Murphy, Kevin Stevens, John Cullen, Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet. They also won their Cups under two different coaches and had to get big contributions from both Tom Barrasso and Frank Pietrangelo in net.