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.
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?