The Pittsburgh Penguins have been summarily dismissed from the NHL postseason in two consecutive seasons. They’ve been bounced like a drunk at the bar (you still remember bars?) and excised like a boil from the NHL playoffs. After an offseason of rearranging players around the Penguins dynamic core and swapping assistant coaches, the Penguins will look different.
But will they be a different team?
There is a myriad of questions surrounding the new roster and a few criticisms that are so oft-repeated, they reflexively appear on Twitter, message boards, the PHN comments sections and Facebook.
Some of the wonders and worries are legitimate. Will the Penguins bottom lines be good enough? Can Mike Matheson resurrect his rookie shine?
There are also five concerns that I don’t take seriously.
5 Penguins Issues to Ignore
5. Sidney Crosby’s age
Sidney Crosby turned 33-years-old in August. For mere mortals, such an age would be the last gasp of greatness. For Sidney Crosby, it’s nothing. It’s like hitting 50,000 miles on the odometer of a new car. Sure, Crosby is and will continue to be more susceptible to injury, just as Jaromir Jagr was in his mid-30s.
However, just like Jagr, Crosby will be able to play hockey as long as he wants. You can no more take a fish from water than you can take Crosby off the ice.
Crosby will be his dominant, powerful, jaw-dropping, intense self…when he’s healthy.
4. Casey DeSmith
Some fans but more media have asserted that Casey DeSmith lacks experience or the Pittsburgh Penguins could upgrade their backup goalie position. Valued colleague Matt Gajtka did a full hockey chat on the subject.
In 50 NHL games, DeSmith has a .921 save percentage. While Penguins fans may pine for Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jim Rutherford may have tried to engineer a shocking Penguins trade, DeSmith is at least a solid backup goalie.
If DeSmith is thrust into the No. 1 goalie role for an extended period of time, that could be harmful as NHL shooters learn his weaknesses and relentlessly pick at him. Like every other goalie. However, as a backup, DeSmith is a good teammate and a good puck stopper.
If the need arises, there are no less than a half dozen goalies available on the NHL trade market.
3. Jim Rutherford’s Age
When fans criticize recent moves by Jim Rutherford, and there have been some headscratchers, the Pittsburgh Penguins GM’s age has often been front and center of the rebuttal.
Rutherford, 71, is the second oldest GM in the NHL behind … Lou Lamoriello. I don’t hear many New York Islanders fans saying Lou Lam is too old. A handful of NHL GMs could draw Social Security checks if they chose, but Rutherford’s age is not an issue.
His recent in-and-out policy of players, however, is indicative of too many bad trades. We’ve detailed the number of Penguins trade acquisitions that lasted 12 months or less, including Jamie Oleksiak, Derrick Brassard, Tanner Pearson, and Erik Gudbranson. Riley Sheahan got his 12-month chip but was gone in 16 months.
If there is a poke on Rutherford, it’s the Penguins trade losing streak. He stole Marcus Pettersson and John Marino, but we believe he overpaid for Kasperi Kapanen and erred by dealing away Patric Hornqvist, in addition to the revolving door noted above.
Don’t forget, there were a pair of parades to Point State Park not too long ago.
Kick at Rutherford for the recent moves. But age? Nah.
2. Kris Letang’s Turnovers
Oh my Gawd! Kris Letang is a turnover machine who wants to play offense, not defense. He’s terrible. Get him off the ice. I don’t know why the Penguins love him so much.
Have I captured the gist of every online rant?
Here’s the funny thing: Letang’s turnover rate is well LESS than those of other highly regarded defensemen. Less than Brent Burns, Shea Weber, John Klingberg, John Carlson, and Aaron Ekblad. From our friends at NaturalStatTrick.com (the grayed column are turnovers). Letang had 56, compared to many more above him.
A year ago, we did an in-depth analysis.
In short, the turnovers will happen. His are no more in number or no more egregious than the rest of the top-flight defensemen who play 25 minutes per game.
It’s probably time to discuss one of the big stories this fall. It was first reported in other news outlets, and in Pittsburgh Hockey Now, Penguins sources said their financial situation was strained. Like many other smaller market teams, money wasn’t coming in, and the Penguins would lower their internal salary cap.
Even as a business side source sounded the alarm, my Spidey sense was tingling. Could Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle really dial down the competitiveness? I’m happy to say we included that giant caveat in our story.
As the 2020-21 NHL season is finally on the launchpad, the Pittsburgh Penguins are only $1.3 million under the cap, according to PuckPedia.com.
If the NHL trade market were not as clogged as Greentree Hill, perhaps the Penguins would have shed additional salary. We’ll never know. But it appears the concern or worries the Penguins would join a dozen other teams who could not be a cap team is no longer founded.