Pittsburgh Penguins' "Role Players" Earn Improved Label: Champions

Todd FlemingAnalyst IJune 15, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 12: Rob Scuderi #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins defends against Marian Hossa #81 of the Detroit Red Wings during Game Seven of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Did you know that the Penguins only have three "real" players on the roster? 

They are the ones with the names Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury sewed on the back of their jerseys. 

Everyone else is some odd creature known as a "role player."

What the heck is a role player?  And how can a team have only a few people who aren't constantly called role players?

Based on the constant commentary that accompanied the Penguins' run to glory, I gathered that it was important that they "step up."

Based on the constant commentary that accompanied the Penguins' run to glory, we all became aware that the Penguins "role players" needed to "step up." 

That was one of the keys to just about every game.

Nothing is quite as inspiring as slinging together a bunch of nonsensical clichés to make a point. 

The "role players" had a lot of nerve hoisting the Cup so high over their head.  They should have shown an appreciation of their limited "roles" by lifting the Cup only half way.

What a slap in the face of the "real" players. Some guys just don't get it.

For that matter, why do they get to wear the same jerseys as the real players?  They should at least make them a different color so casual fans can tell the difference between who they should regard as real players, versus the role players. 

Maybe the Penguins' "role players" should have worn those powder blue outfits they wore in their outdoor matchup.  Then none of us would have made the mistake as regarding them as being above their station.

Maybe we should put a scarlet "R" on their jerseys in the same spirit as the "C" and the "A." 

To be fair, I'm sure most of the writers who have used the term meant no disrespect by it, but it really sells the contributions of every member of a team short.

It is the one term I wish we would banish from our hockey vocabulary. 

Calling someone a "role player" implies they are somehow less than a real player, being suited to fill a single role. 

Jay Caufield was a true Penguins' role player back in the day.  When he came out on the ice during the Super Mario years, chances are he was filling one distinct role, to throw his gloves on the ice and get his butt kicked by the other team's resident goon. 

I never quite understood why the Penguins couldn't find a better goon. 

Rob Scuderi, Max Talbott, Jordan Staal, Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, and the rest of the Stanley Cup swigging Penguins are definitely not "role players." 

It reminds me of the movie Sky High with Kurt Russell when students at the Superhero school are loudly broken into two groups, heroes and sidekicks, on their first day of class, defined for the rest of their lives. 

But, in this case, the hero class would be absurdly small, while the sidekick (aka role player) class would be overflowing with bodies.

I can even see the players standing before Don Cherry as he decided whether to deem them "heroes" or scream "sidekick" in their face.

"Max Talbott.  All you can do is grow a really impressive beard, fly around the ice, and score critical goals?  SIDEKICK!!!!"

The Pittsburgh Penguins took turns emerging as heroes during the Stanley Cup playoffrun.  They were all "the piece" that was needed, the term made famous by a Rob Scuderi slip of the tongue when, ironically, he was trying to make the same point I'm trying to make here.

Scuderi's point was that every player is a piece in an overall puzzle that turns into a championship team.  He made the unfortunate mistake of saying he was "the" piece instead of "a" piece, earning himself a first-rate nickname in the process.

Could the Penguins have won the Cup without Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby?  No way, although they did win the most important game of the season with Crosby injured on the bench for over half of it. 

Still, those two may be the best one-two punch in the history of the league and they deserve every accolade they receive, and then some. 

Could they have won the Cup without Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill, or Tyler Kennedy?  Perhaps.
But, that doesn't mean those players weren't a huge part of the team's success. 

Pittsburgh's third line scored the two key goals in a pivotal Game Six, while Rob Scuderi took his turn at goalie, channeling his inner Patrick Roy to wipe two potential Red Wings' goals off the board in an elimination Game Six.

A goal scored is no more important than a goal kept off the board.  Both have the exact same influence on the overall outcome of the game.  In that sense, what Scuderi achieved in Game Six was every bit as impressive as if he had scored twice.

He was just being a good role player. 

Mad Max Talbott, a guy who is becoming an absolute legend, scored the only two Penguins' goals of the decisive final game, converting a nifty pass from fellow role player Chris Kunitz into the winning goal. 

Nice job, Max, on maximizing your inner roleishness. 

Jordan Staal scored arguably the biggest goal of the series, his short-handed equalizer in Game Four that sparked a three goal rally and lifted the Penguins back into the series. 

Again, heck of a job Mr. high-paid Role Player.

Were all of those Penguins' defenders forcing everything to the outside in Game Seven simply filling a role?

Brad Stuart also had a role to play, gift wrapping a couple turnovers to the Penguins as part of the league's conspiracy to give the Stanley Cup to the Penguins.  Just kidding.

Considering the amount of money locked up in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury, there will be high turnover on the Penguins' roster each year.  That is an unfortunate side effect of having such elite players in the salary cap era.

But, the new guys coming in will not be "role" players.  They will simply be players, and the Penguins' success or failure will be largely determined by how they fit into the overall team concept. 

The contrast when the media talked about the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins was striking.

With the Red Wings, it was always about their incredible depth.  None of their players were relegated to second-class citizens as part of the Hank Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk hit parade.

But, with the Penguins, it was always about the fantastic two and their merry band of role players.

No team is going to win a championship with a couple elite players and a bunch of slugs. 

But, far too often, that was the tone of the commentary when talking about the Penguins. 

It takes a true team effort to win Lord Stanley's Cup, the greatest trophy in all of sports.  And, for that reason, it is time to retire term "role player" and appreciate the synergistic contributions of every member of the winning team.

Otherwise, get used to the idea of seeing a steady parade of "role players" lift the Stanley Cup over their heads in the years to come as they earn the more impressive moniker of "champions."


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