Fire up the flux capacitor, The Flower Shop is taking a trip back… back to, well, the past. 2003, to be exact.
The cast of Dead Like Me, which, ironically, was the theme of the Penguins 2002-03 season
For most people, 2003 was a pretty awesome year. The thumping beats of Outkast's Hey Ya! were everywhere, Martha Stewart got indicted for insider trading, Dead Like Me premiered on Showtime, Pirates of the Carribean and Return of the King were playing in theaters. Good times.
Martha Stewart: Having a better 2003 than Uday and Qusay Hussein
If you were Penguins fan, however, 2003 sucked for you. The Devils won The Cup, you probably had SARS, the Pens finished only four points above the last place Hurricanes, the team was made up of young prospects, has-beens and never-weres. Before the end of the season two of the most recognizable names were gone. Alex Kovalev went to the Rangers for Rico Fata, Richard Lintner, Joel Bouchard and Mikeal Samuelsson. Jan Hrdina went to the Coyotes for Dan Foct and Ramzi Abid. (NOTE: If anyone has a Fata or Abid jersey, we want pics.)
SARS. More fun that realizing you spent money on a Rico Fata jersey
The 2002-03 season was a fire sale designed to cut costs. The flightless birds were not competitive on the ice and they were floundering financially… again. Their future in Pittsburgh was not secure and they only won 27 games. We at The Flower Shop remember. It was almost better to be a Pirates fan. Almost.
Some of the building blocks for what was to come were there that season. Brooks Orpik started handing out free candy in 2002-03 when he made his NHL debut and played in six games for the Pens. Did we say "building blocks"? We meant building block. The only person on the 2007-08 roster that was on the 2002-03 roster is Brooks Orpik. It hurts to think about that time but you've got to remember, the Penguins don't get where they are now without the black hole that was 2001-2006. It is possible that he could play for another team next season but I know all the black and gold faithful will forever remember, "The Shift."
In 2003 the Penguins goaltending situation was full of more no-names than last week's party at Christian Slater's house. Someone within the Penguins organization had bellied up to the bar and ordered a double shot of Sebastian. Jean-Sebastian Aubin and Sebastian Caron. And just like what happens when you order a double shot of Wild Turkey, it didn't sit too well in our collective stomachs. The two Sebastians won only 16 games. A man named "Moose" won another 14 games for the black and gold. Granted, not all of the loses can be blamed on the goalies when you've got such crack D-men as Patrick Boileau and Ross Lupaschuck on the ice.
Christian Slater should have stopped making films after True Romance
The process of rebuilding started with a skinny, 18 year-old netminder with a hyphenated first name from just outside of Montreal. The Penguins got the first overall pick of the draft from the Panthers, along with the seventy-third pick. They used that pick to make Marc-Andre Fleury only the second goaltender to be picked first overall (the other one being, of course, Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders.) Things were a little rough at first with contract negotiations breaking down somewhat when finally a past-his-prime Craig Patrick was able to sign Fleury to a contract saying, "In the end, there certainly was pressure that he could become an unrestricted flee agent," Patrick says. "I'm not proud of myself Personally I wanted to get him in here at a reasonable number. But I had to go with the DiPietro model."
Craig Patrick's chin had it's own time zone
Patrick wasn't happy with the deal and neither was Eddie Olczyk, who seems to blame "The Fleury Situation" on his early departure from behind the Penguins bench. Anyone who has watched a Penguins game on Versus knows that. Still, the fact cannot be argued that the Penguins needed a franchise goaltender at any price and Patrick, ever the consummate GM, got it done.
If there were any doubts about Fleury's skill, they were put to rest as soon as he took the ice. He played very well for a rookie and, even though his record the first season wasn't impressive, Penguins fans rejoiced because it seemed our franchise goaltender had been found and we dared to dream.
Our faith was rewarded.
2006-07 saw Fleury win 40 games and the Penguins advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2000-01. The Pens lost in the first round to Ottawa, of course, managing to only win one game of the series but they learned much and would be back the next season.
Anyone's lingering doubt's about Fleury or the possibility that the Penguins blew the first overall pick for a goaltender were quickly put to rest in 2007-08. He was injured for much of the season with a high ankle sprain but came back strong to backstop the Penguins into the playoffs, past the Senators, past the Rangers, past the Flyers and through six games with the Red Wings.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the Penguins fanchise goaltender and Ray Shero will sign him to a long term deal this off-season. When that happens, there will be much rejoicing at The Flower Shop.
In a side note, we here at The Flower Shop would like to say, "Godspeed," to Gary Roberts. Good luck in Tampa Bay.