It's been 20 years since Pittsburgh fans found themselves in their current predicament. That's right, it's been two full decades since the last time the city's three professional sports teams missed the playoffs in succession. The Penguins completed the unwanted trifecta when they were eliminated from NHL playoff contention on Wednesday night,of 16 consecutive postseason berths.
The Penguins, Pirates and Steelers were each playing regular-season games this past October, but none of them were still playing when their respective postseasons began. The Pirates endured a 100-loss season while extending their non-playoff streak to seven years. The Steelers finished the 2022 season with the franchise's 19th consecutive non-losing season, but missed the playoffs after starting the season with a 2-6 record. Like the Steelers, the Penguins will also finish their current season with a winning record (they are 40-31-10 entering Thursday night's season finale in Columbus), but will still end up on the outside of the playoffs.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby was a teenager living in Canada the last time all three Pittsburgh sports teams missed the playoffs in succession. In 2003, the Pirates went 75-87 while extending their run of non-playoff seasons to 11. The Penguins, two years removed from making the playoffs for an 11th straight year, were in the second year of their rebuild. They slogged through a 65-point season despite receiving an All-Star season from Mario Lemieux, who tallied 91 points at age 37. That fall, the Steelers completed the unwanted trifecta by going 6-10, the franchise's worst record during Bill Cowher's 15 seasons as coach.
Obviously, Pittsburgh's sports misery didn't last long. The Penguins' lean years paid off with low draft picks that allowed them to acquire a core of stars that would help the franchise win Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017. The Steelers parlayed their last losing season into the selection of Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 Draft. Pittsburgh went 15-1 in Big Ben's first season and would win two Super Bowls and three AFC titles with Roethlisberger under center.
It took longer, but the Pirates started to win, too. Led by outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 Pirates ended the franchise's 21-year playoff drought. The Bucs punctuated their memorable season with a 6-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Wild Card Game. The Pirates would go on to make the playoffs each of the next two seasons.
While the Pirates aren't expected to make the playoffs this year, the 2023 Steelers have a decent shot at snapping the city's current playoff drought. The Steelers' win projection has been set at 9.5, according to Caesars Sportsbook, which would put them on the cusp of a playoff spot. Pittsburgh's third-place schedule for the upcoming season only helps its playoff prospects.