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PHN Blog: So What Now? How Do Penguins Move Forward?

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Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford

In just a few short hours, we learned the Pittsburgh Penguins moved from everything on the table to affect change to almost nothing on the table. It was not as if the Penguins would trade all of their core including Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin but surely some significant change was needed for a team whose season ended nearly two months ago. Does GM Jim Rutherford believe he can jumpstart the team with periphery moves or are his hands tied? If Kessel indeed clashed with the team and coaches as others have said, how do they go forward with the player?

In short, where in the bloody blue blazes do the Penguins go from here?

The counter opinion which posited Rutherford was merely bluffing when he said he expected Kessel to begin next season with the team is rooted in logic as much as disbelief. Surely, everyone on 5th Ave. knows the troubled workplace environment and lackluster performance cannot be carried over into the next season.

It just can’t…can it?

Over the past year, the National Hockey Now family has been covering this Kessel story from several angles and cities. We have been involved in too many conversations with people close to the situation which have included harsh or terse language about the situation. We’ve been privy to much frustration and some disgust. Chats, DMs, texts. They’ve all had the same undercurrent of frustration. This season, it all came to a head.

For Rutherford to try it once again could be career ending.

For the Penguins to march forward with the same troops which essentially imploded or were so fractured they couldn’t pull it together to beat the New York Islanders would be a suicide mission. It’s not good business practice to keep trying what has failed spectacularly. The Penguins weren’t a tertiary player away from the Stanley Cup. They were 16 wins away. The Penguins weren’t a third line player or a Jack Johnson-less defense away from the Stanley Cup, they were a functioning superstar or two away from the Stanley Cup.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

And for the record, the Penguins did have a Jack Johnson-less defense in the playoffs, but quickly realized their crease and the defensive zone were dirtier than the parking lot the day after a Kenney Chesney concert.

And so the Penguins are fishing for change and upgrades with Olli Maatta and perhaps a couple of others as bait. I’m not sure what they’re hoping to catch, but carp isn’t very good eating. (Well, it can be. If you soak the carp in lemon juice and butter with a dash of Old Bay seasoning for 3 hours. Place it on a pine cooking board. Cook for 45 minutes at 425 degrees. Then eat the pine board).

The Kessel situation directly impacts the Evgeni Malkin rebound, too. Perhaps Malkin was embarrassed by his season and has every intention of taking the NHL by storm, one more time. It would seem that job is more difficult with a player on his right which appeals not to his better angels but his worst instincts.

In blunt force truthfulness, I do not want to cover a team with daily personnel drama. I’d love to bring you Xs and Os, trade talk, analysis. Not Days of Our Lives on ice. But I also must cover the real story, not just what I want (for those who say just ignore it, or we don’t care, its all connected to the on-ice performance and thus too relevant to skip).

Surely you watched the Stanley Cup Final. You saw teams go to war for each other. David Backes was a healthy scratch in the Stanley Cup Final but sat in the press box shaking his pom-poms as hard as he could. Those are his words as told to Boston Hockey Now, not mine.

Surely, Rutherford was bluffing. Surely he sees the situation with Kessel cannot continue, at least without some apologies, humbling admissions and promises of a better season. Think that’s possible? I don’t.

And so, I believe Rutherford when he speaks. He’s too candid. Too blunt. Too straightforward. You may not like his thoughts but you must respect a GM who has built a few Cup winners for two organizations. Sure, he’s also made some colossal errors, such as a multi-year deal to Alex Semin (which is now just a footnote in a great career) but every GM for EVERY team has a few of those regrets.

I believe Rutherford when he says he expects Kessel to return. And that’s why I wonder–How do the Penguins go forward from here?

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Ricardo58

    June 15, 2019 at 9:49 am

    I’ve never been a fan of 81’s overall game. Of course, I respect his O talent. But his soft play, skating circles to avoid contact and no battle along the boards or in the corners have me looking forward to reading the various sites to see what team he was traded to. Then, the GM makes his comments after the season and I’m convinced 81 is gone. Now the GM backtracks. As I said, I want 81 gone. However, the poor leadership displayed by the GM carrying out business through leaks or direct comments to play this out in the public is weak and counterproductive. I’m sure 81 is motivated to stick it to the GM. Can’t blame him.

    The soap opera will continue into the season and history has shown how productive that will turn out. I think 81 and the GM both need to move on. Also, the answers and attitude from 58 at the conclusion of the season was a poor look to him especially from a guy who has the “A”. I’d be ok with 58 moving on too. Go Pens.

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      June 15, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      Yeah there’s definitely a reason Phil doesn’t get injured, and part of it is the areas isn’t willing to go to. I also was disgusted with Letang’s comments.

      In the end I think we can replace Phil’s scoring with a better two way player who’ll negate some of the defensive commitment issues while providing offence, while not being a big distraction. Even if it’s only a 40-50 point player, all of those things combined could make us a better team and gel in the room.

      Letang I wouldn’t trade. Right shooting Norris caliber guys who can put up 60 points are not something you trade, ever. There’s a handful of them on the planet and once you have one you gotta hold on to them. We actually nearly have two.

      If it were me I would stay patient, see how the draft plays out, if anything happens there, then wait for free agency and try to pounce while the pressure is on. Making a deal for Phil before that could blow up again. Not gonna be easy either way but we can’t have that distraction, and we need a better locker room.

  2. RobertU

    June 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    I still think JR is trying to raise the value of the offers by saying he’d rather keep him than give him away. He has no other option. So much for the notion that Kessel would be wanted by everyone, huh? When something at least somewhat palatable comes along, JR will jump at it. But that might be further away than some of us would like. Might have to get a couple months of solid play from him next season to remind others of his O skill. Maybe he’ll need to package someone like Jarry or one of the younger d-men. My sense is Malkin was shaken from his troublemaker-in-the-back-of-the-classroom act by the threat to trade him and he’s staying.

    BTW, the parallels b/w this and Antonio Brown are stunning IMO. Two guys who play for themselves and their own stats, don’t care about their teams, do unprofessional things when they’re not in the game, pout when they don’t get their way, refuse to take any reduction in role, they’ve both tanked their value in the market. But for some reason, AB was pure evil to Pitts fans, while Phil is untouchable. Wonder why that could be… This despite the fact that at least AB played hard when he was in the game.

    • Doug

      June 15, 2019 at 11:41 pm

      I’ll be thrilled when Kessel is finally traded, but there are no parallels between his situation and that of Mr. Big Chest. Did Kessel quit on the team by not showing up for a crucial game right before the playoffs? Did he publicly attack Mike Sullivan or a star on the team? Did he engage in a series of juvenile tweets attacking the organization? Was he filmed going 100 mph on McKnight Road, or accused of throwing furniture off a balcony nearly killing a young child? There’s a huge difference between the two, I wonder why you are trying to turn it into something it’s not. Actually I’m not.

  3. DaveK

    June 15, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Murray and Sullivan have to go. The rest of the team is fine as is, but that coach and that goalie are toxic to the chemistry of the team.

    • Thomas Roberts

      June 15, 2019 at 7:03 pm

      Have you watched any of the games ? Or a better question is do you know ANYTHING about hockey.? Well…silly question the answer is clearly NO

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      June 15, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      This clearly isn’t a serious statement.

  4. Edgar

    June 15, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    Gonna be interesting to see what he does. I have no faith.

  5. Jay95

    June 15, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    I guess we just got our first answer…

    • Edgar

      June 16, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      I hate Maatta more than I hate Rutherford, so I suppose I’m pleased with the deal. But, I never even heard of the guy we got so, it’s completely based on other people’s reactions. I just have always felt Maatta’s skills were limited against top tier competition. Yes, he can be solid and steady most of the time. And I appreciate that. We should have sold high on him years ago. Sports teams rarely sell high.

  6. Pingback: PHN Blog: So What Now? How Do Penguins Move Forward? - Pittsburgh Hockey Now - NHL Rumor Mill

  7. Keith Thomas

    June 16, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    What is troubling in the midst of all of this absurd drama is the fact it has a net negative impact on HC Sullivan and his ability to coach the team. The well documented insurrection this season by the likes of 81, 71 and 58 all have significant implications on the HC and it undermines his ability to actually coach this team moving forward. Can you imagine trying to coach a team where 3 of the 4 leading “stars” pull out daggers and openly defy the coach? Who would want to coach in that atmosphere?

    JR is a smart GM and has to know what is going on and he has been around hockey long enough to know how toxic this kind of situation has to be on a locker room or a team practice. The organization is in a very challenging situation especially in light of the fact that all three have varying forms of NTC/NMC. It is a delicate situation navigating this without saying the wrong thing, alienating players and yet professionally working through trade possibilities – one mis-step can doom everything. In the end, they either stay with MS and back him by seeking to move on from certain players who are central to this ridiculous drama. If they stay with the players, they will be on an endless treadmill of finding new coaches every 2 or 3 years at the whim of factious players of any combination.

    All kidding aside, we should pray that JR has a special dose of wisdom and discernment because if this is not sorted out rather quickly this offseason, the fan base could witness a serious debacle this coming season. If there is not movement between now and the draft look for teams to wait for FA signings. I think that once the hot-shot FA market dry’s up teams will be more open to trades and creative especially the losers in FA sweepstakes overpayments.

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