Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stat Rat Wants To Know: So What Are The Penguins, Mario Lemieux, Thinking???

By "The Stat Rat", Associate Editor, "P.B.& G."

Okay, so it was novel the first time they did it. I even went along with it when they put them on for the Winter Classic on New Years Day of 2008. But the frequent use of the old powder blue uniform is getting to the point now where it's practically becoming traitorous to the Burgh fans' preference for only the precious color combination of black & gold for all of its' professional teams.

So are the Penguins wishing for a return to "the good old days", those wonderful times when they wore these early San Diego Chargers uniforms exclusively? Or do they need the marketing funds from the sale of these jerseys to help balance the books? Let's certainly hope that this is not the situation in both cases.

Therein lies the crux for today's feature story from yours truly, also known from time-to-time as "The Stat Rat". Because not only were "the good old days" not go
od from a winning percentage, we also almost lost the team to bankruptcy it seemed like every other year. We had one of our most promising rookies ever, Michele Briere, die in an auto accident during this era. In those infrequent years when we did make the playoffs...well let's just be kind and say that we usually didn't last very long. Of course it's also a fair statement to make that during these years that our beloved flightless birds never were a really serious threat to win the Stanley Cup, ever. We had many better than average players and several who could have played on virtually any Penguin team ever. But the problem was that we also had no shortage of stiffs and coaching turnover inevitably came with great regularity. But "the good old days"? Ah, no. How about, "The mediocre old days" instead?

Using the prior paragraph as a backdrop, does it strike anyone else as being curious as to why the Pens (and a lot of their fans) would get whipped up about these powder blue "unis"? These never struck fear into anyone let alone a machine like the Detroit Red Wings, nor do I believe that they inspire our players either. I'm sure that if the Penguins were to poll their fans as they came through the turnstiles as to what uniform they'd like to see the team wear, that they'd prefer the black & gold by a very, very wide margin (of course).

Other than the Winter Classic game, how many times have they won when wearing these uniforms? I was unable to come up with a complete record since they first resurrected them, but this year they're planning on wearing them a total of 11 times, that's about 9% of their games! So far, including Sunday's very uninspiring shutout loss to Detroit, this uniform is performing at a rate of two wins, four losses and one shootout loss. Hardly inspiring to say the least.

So if you're the Penguins, do you keep trotting your team out in a uniform color that makes opposing teams salivate? Or, do you use your head and get back into the proper colors, the colors of Pittsburgh?

Come on Mario, get this mess straightened out while there's still time. You're currently winning at a paltry .285% wearing baby blue. Pick up the phone, call Shero and tell him to put these disasters back into cold storage where they belong until the next time we're in the Winter Classic in another ten years or so. They're not inspiring our team, so why wear them? Are they inspiring the fans? Sure, they love seeing the Pens lose, especially at home where it costs about a $100 bucks per person not including popcorn. Get your team back into the black & gold where they belong. You won two Stanley Cups wearing these proud colors. What's wrong with that? I also don't recall ever seeing you wearing powder blue, or am I mistaken?

What's really interesting to me about this story is that when I first sat down, I thought that I would be able to show how big of a difference it means to the Penguins to wear their black and gold uniforms instead of the powder blue. My reasoning was that since this was an analytical type of story that this would be the perfect scenario for my alter-ego, "The Stat Rat" to gain a byline. Well as they say, "The best laid plans of mice and men".

Above: Wins are so infrequent in this uniform that the NHL was fortunately on the spot to preserve the biggest, make that the only good moment ever had in the baby blue jersey. Thanks Sidney and you too Commissioner Bettman sir!

Left: These are the very first uniforms ever worn by the Penguins. Looking at these you realize just how far we'd come as a franchise until we decided to regress back into powder blue. I'm inspired, are you?

So what are the Pens' records depending on their uniform pf choice? Well for that kind of information there's only one way to get it. That's right, you turn into, Duh, duh ,DUHHHH!"The Stat Rat".

Right: He looks kind of cheesy, but this guy can really count!

Alright, gather around my children for your "Twosburgh Penguins" history lesson, courtesy of your favorite historian and statistician, yer "Stat Rat".

Above: I still can't believe that they're going to blow this up some day. No way!!!

The Pittsburgh Penguins first hit the "Civic Arena" ice back in 1967. If I may digress a moment, the arena itself got off to a shaky start when it ran into the always-present "cost overruns" during construction. Back in those days, there was no such thing as a bailout. The idea du jour then was the "telethon". Can you believe that my total recall of numerology is so pervasive that I can still remember the phone number that was being used for that telethon!!! In those days, the prefix for a phone number would be something like "fairfax", "wellington" or "cedar" instead of 231 or 326, etc. The number was being sung, no less, to the tune of "When the Saints come marching in." In this case the catchy tune went like this: "Expresso one... Expresso one... Expresso one, three, nine, oh ohhhh... oh won't you please dial that number, Expresso one three nine oh ohhhh. Etc. Etc. I have no idea how much money was raised this way or how many times they sang that song, but I'd have a hard time believing that this approach would work today. We're far too jaded. I'm sure this number doesn't work anymore either, so please don't call it. EDITOR'S NOTE: We actually tried the old expresso one number and it works! It rang ten times before an answering machine picked up. We were breathless at who it might be; Luke Ravenstahl? Dan Onorato? Mario? When the message came on it said, "This is Nickie, we're not here right now, but please leave a message! (Disappointment ensued).

Anyway, getting back to the task at hand, the Penguins played 1,018 games during the years 1967 through 1980 wearing "baby blue". The team announced that they were changing colors during halftime of SuperBowl XIV. Putting this into perspective, the Pens announced this change during a time when the Steelers had won four Lombardis in the space of six seasons. Even the Pirates were getting into the act winning two World Series in 1971 and 1979. It was evident to everyone who worked at the Igloo, that the only way to get in on the winning was to change colors. The logic went like this: Change to black & gold= start winning=get into playoffs=win titles= fill arena=emerge from bankruptcy protection. It was a great business plan and they did win two titles although it took 11 more years before they'd win their first one.

During their first 13 seasons, their combined records were 377 wins, 469 losses and 172 ties. This means that out of the 1,018 games that they played, 846 of them were decided as a win or loss. The Pens winning percentage during these years was .445% (I actually thought it would be much worse).

During the nineteen seasons during 1981-2000, (which included two Stanley Cup Championship years and at least one other that should have been) the Pens had a much improved record of 714- 695 and 176 (notice they had only six more ties in 19 years than had had in their first 13 seasons) so it's safe to say that a lot of games that in prior seasons would have ended up as ties finished as wins. Of these 1,588 games, 1,409 ended as a win or loss, so the winning percentage in those contests came in at .506, up 61 percentage points over their first 13 years.

During the seasons 2001 through present day, the team has had a dramatic "mixed bag" of results. Following the retirement of Mario, there have been dreadful seasons that ultimately resulted in Marc Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin becoming our first round picks. There was a lockout year and even a year where the team first got to the Stanley Cup Finals without winning it all. This year has basically been a .500 season when much better results were expected by virtually everyone. Overall, these last 7 1/2 years have produced a record as of Sunday of 139-144-8 and now a new category, 37 overtime losses. So of these 328 games, 320 have been decided without a tie (since the new CBA) a record of just .434%, worse than their first 13 years!

Above: A noble-looking uniform if there ever was one. What's wrong with this?

So what is the Penguins all time record and winning percentage you ask?

The Pens have played 2,986 games that have generated 2,630 finishes not resulting in a tie. Of those 2,630 games that had a winner or loser, the Pens have won 1,256 times while losing 1,332 in regulation and another 42 in overtime. So their total record in 1,256 wins and 1,374 losses. This gives the team a combined 39+ year winning percentage of .477%.

So to recap, first 13 years (1967-80) .445%

Next 19 years (1991-2000) .506% (largely Lemieux years)

Last 7 1/2 seasons (2001-present) .434% (mostly pre-Crosby, Malkin, Fleury)

All time 1967- present day .477%

Above: The Mario Lemieux' Hall of Fame exhibit. Note conspicuous absence of anything remotely close to the color, powder blue.


So what does the future look like for the Twosburgh Penguins, more of the same .477% winning pace? Hardly. The team has clearly moved into a period where it can be expected that it will perform at the very least, at the .506% level that Mr. Lemieux, Francis, Barasso and company managed during the '90s. Just look at this year as evidence. The fans are clearly disappointed while the team is currently performing at a slightly plus .500% level, 23 points higher than their historic average! Just wait until that new Consol Energy Arena opens too!

So chew on that for awhile! ---"The Stat Rat"