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Kingerski: Penguins Core Has One More Year…Is this a ‘Show Me’ Year?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin

The Sidney Crosby surgery in the weeks before training camp seemingly kicked open the door to concern and intense discussions about the biggest issue facing the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Like most of you, I assume or assumed, the Penguins’ core would continue together for several more years until it ended naturally as the core players retired and Crosby played on until he was 40 or beyond.

It doesn’t feel like that today, does it?

Adding a little more curiosity or intrigue to the mix were Brian Burke’s comments published on Sportsnet. Burke hosted an annual fundraiser in Calgary and dished a quick Q&A. The following answer about delaying a Penguins rebuild caught me funny.

“This group is under contract for another year, and we’re going to keep seeing what we can do. We believe in the group,” Burke told Sportnet. “We’ve made the playoffs 15 straight years. We won two Cups, five and four years ago, and then we were eliminated in the first round the last three years. We’ve got to reverse that trend.”

One more year, and we’ll keep seeing what we can do? That’s open-ended.

That’s not the look ahead one would expect after GM Ron Hextall publicly stated at least twice that the Penguins would get to contract discussions with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in August.

By the way, it’s September, and neither player has a new deal to extend beyond this season. Nor does Patrice Bergeron in Boston, for that matter.

But what does “keep seeing what they can do” mean? And how do they reverse the trend of three straight first-round playoff exits?

For all of the consternation, analysis, and wonder about the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason activity or lack thereof, we may have been pretty close to pinning the tail when we opined this coming season would not be a “win now” but a “win if you can.”

Crosby’s wrist surgery seems unlikely to keep him out long term, and Hextall stated he didn’t expect to use the LTIR designation for either Crosby or Malkin, which means even Malkin should return in November.

So, the Penguins should be at full strength by U.S. Thanksgiving. Playoff hopes will hinge not on the Crosby and Evgeni Malkin surgeries but on the team’s ability to win games with the lineup currently assembled.

Does it seem to anyone else that the core has been given an unspoken–or spoken–ultimatum to win this season, or the Penguins will not get the band back together?

Count this space as one that expected the core to continue as Pittsburgh Penguins as long as they could, win or lose. And losing would eventually come, but the organization would do everything it could to transition instead of rebuild.

The question and parsing of Burke’s words make me severely question that assumption.

If the losing arrives, will Malkin and Letang depart, not necessarily by their own choice?

If the losing arrives, the Penguins also have a first-round choice in 2022, their first since 2019. That choice could get higher…and higher. If the Pittsburgh Penguins 15-year-playoff streak ends this season, that top pick becomes a lottery pick (though 2021 rules changes prohibit a team from moving up more than 10 spots, so to have a shot at the first overall pick, the Penguins would have to finish in the bottom 10).

“The End is Nigh” is an expression that supposedly comes from an Oxford resident who used to walk around with a sandwich board sporting the phrase that warned of the coming apocalypse.

Something happened on Wednesday that had similar undertones. Despite Crosby’s relatively short rehab and the prospect of missing only the first week or two of the NHL regular season, Penguins fans were marching around on social media with their own sandwich boards.

With Crosby out for a bit, and Evgeni Malkin out for a bit longer, the Penguins playoff hopes will take a little ding, but over an 82-game season, the first few weeks can be overcome. But the fear went deeper than simply a bad season.

Is this part of the plan? Let the players go for it, but also let attrition become a factor that forces a rebuild?

Two core players are under contract for one more year. It sure does seem like this season is the “show me” season and if the Penguins core can muster another run, they earn the rewards. If they can’t get past that first round, maybe the Penguins have all of the leverage in a contract discussion.

“So, you want to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins for a few more years? Here’s what we can offer…”

It’s been a long time since Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang had to sing for their supper, but maybe the onus is on them to carry the team one more time, or to show they cannot thus allowing some decisions to make themselves.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Ken Colligan
1 year ago

You are giving Burke too much power. In the end, ownership makes the call. They will attempt to keep the ancient core together. Betting that the fans see them as they were , not as they are. Burke will then move on at the end of the year.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 year ago
Reply to  Ken Colligan

Ken I don’t think Burke moves on that quickly. I do believe it is a show me year for Malkin and Letang. I believe if the Pens are doing real bad Letang will be traded and they will talk with Malkin. If they miss the playoffs I believe they are both gone.

Ken Colligan
1 year ago

Agree with you. Don’t believe ownership sees it that way. They look at the relics of the core as a way to sell tickets to the gullible. Ownership realizes they have no chance for cup competition. It is now all about marketing.

C Daniel
C Daniel
1 year ago

Feels like the first time we’ve heard from Burke for a while, and it’s vague isn’t it. Is success getting to the 2nd round? With the weakened squad that seems a tough ask. If we go out due to other players’ failings, does that still count against the core? Who knows. Where “show me” makes sense is in the sense of “are you still physically capable and mentally interested by the end of the season”, which seems to be Bergeron’s approach with himself.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 year ago

Absolutely. Said it a month ago. It is a show me year. Make the second round or 58 and 71 should be offered a lot less $ so we actually have some cap space next summer.

1 year ago

Well, there was a discussion about whether they should rest players in the NHL as they do in other sports and I did comment on that. The end is nigh, but total doom isn’t around the corner. So, once both of them get back, they shouldn’t really play all the games if we’re solid in the standings or they should play them with minimum intensity and shortened shifts. And why do we keep talking about how Letang and Malkin could be traded, sent to Russia and so on? I hope you realise we won’t get McDavid and Matthews to replace… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Uros

[…] — In Pittsburgh, Brian Burke made comments that could be parsed to openly wonder if the Penguins are putting the onus on the Penguins core to prove themselves this season or be broken up? […]