The other day, I had the pleasure of chatting with New York Islanders legend Bryan Trottier for an upcoming special issue we’re putting together (sorry, no spoilers here). During the course of our conversation, we got on the topic of winning championships and it probably will not surprise you that a man who hoisted the Stanley Cup six times as a player in his career – four with New York and two with Pittsburgh – had some insight on the matter.
Trottier grew up watching Jean Beliveau’s Montreal Canadiens win Cups with class and humility and the Habs legend had a profound effect on the youngster from Val Marie, Sask.
Once Trottier got to the NHL himself, he quickly helped the Islanders become a threat in the Patrick Division, but in the late 1970s, it was a new iteration of the Habs winning Cups. Montreal won four in a row and Trottier’s crew took note.
“You wanted to be a champion like the Montreal Canadiens,” he said. “Carry yourself with pride. With the Islanders, every player on that team had a role. You can be a fourth liner and still carry yourself with dignity.”
New York went on to win four straight Cups, from 1980-83. In the final triumph, Trottier’s boys beat a young Edmonton Oilers team featuring Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, among other numerous franchise legends-in-the-making. In the years that have followed, members of that Oilers team have been quite vocal in noting that seeing how hard the Islanders worked against them made Edmonton realize what it truly took to win a title. The next year, those Oilers beat the Islanders in the final to start their own dynasty. Trottier was touched by the respect those Oilers paid to him and his team and he saw the same championship ethic in the Detroit Red Wings during their heyday years later.
In the present, Chicago and Los Angeles won multiple titles, but the current hilltoppers come from Pittsburgh. Being a Penguins alum himself, Trottier has dropped by to see the team on occasion, though he doesn’t like to impose. Still, what he sees there impresses him.
“Hats off to their leadership,” he said. “They carry themselves with a certain level of confidence, without being arrogant. And they’re all such great kids; that’s why we pull for them. You walk into the room and see Evgeni Malkin smiling and Marc-Andre Fleury smiling and Sidney Crosby smiling.”
The fact management has been able to keep together most of the core (Matt Murray made Fleury expendable in the Vegas expansion draft) while folding in talented young players such as Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel was also a stellar feat in Trottier’s mind.
And while he didn’t specifically say that the Penguins will win a third straight championship this season, he didn’t dismiss the idea outright, either.
It’s been said that winning multiple championships in the NHL these days is too hard, given the physical strain of such a long season (plus bonus events like the World Cup). But athletes today are more evolved than any others in history and we didn’t think a repeat was likely until Pittsburgh did it. Maybe three isn’t out of the question after all.
Of course, Trottier still has four straight on his resume…