Unacceptable: If This Is It, Penguins’ Hextall Should Give Up & Sell
The Pittsburgh Penguins were outclassed and embarrassed. They lost. Again. It was their fifth loss in six games, and the time has come when it’s neither acceptable nor tenable to continue in the same direction.
Go big at the NHL trade deadline. Or sell the parts.
This Penguins group just isn’t good enough.
After 30 minutes against the Edmonton Oilers, the Penguins had gathered an impressive nine shots. It’s impressive because a team almost has to try harder to have so few shots despite the boiling pressure in the standings to begin amassing wins or miss the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
The Penguins reached double digits of shots in the middle of the second period, already trailing 4-1, but with a power play and a chance to begin climbing out of the muddy hole they dug for themselves.
If the goal was pretty passes around the perimeter, they succeeded. If the desired result was momentum, shots, or, dare we say, a goal, they failed.
By the end of the second period, the Penguins trailed 6-1. The final score was 7-2.
Chants rained, “Fire Hextall.”
Boos grew louder.
When Connor McDavid was awarded a late-third-period penalty shot, the Pittsburgh fans cheered. They also cheered when he scored.
The boos could have been a lot louder. The home crowd spared them the full brunt of the Bronx treatment.
Even Sullivan seemed resigned to the team’s limitations as he mustered just a bit of defiance, too.
“Well, our roster is our roster. So, we have what we have, and we’re trying to put the best combinations on the ice that we think gives us the best chance to win,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s the criteria that I’ve always utilized for our coaching staff. We ask that question every day. We drill down the details, and then we put forward the lineup on the ice that we think gives us the best chance to win.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins are at a momentous crossroads. Hextall dished long-term contracts to Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. They will remain the faces of the franchise until they are done playing.
However, he also delivered multi-year deals to Jeff Carter, Kasperi Kapanen and Jan Rutta. None of those are working out. All three of those contracts are strangling the Penguins’ ability to improve both this season and likely next season.
Look, if Hextall’s best plans for next week’s NHL trade deadline were to nibble at the edges, perhaps make a little chemistry addition as he discussed when he spoke a few weeks ago, forget it.
The patient needs major surgery, and a band-aid just won’t cut it. Another aging player at the end won’t do it. Nor will a minor addition.
“It’s a matter of playing better. So I’m not going to sit here and talk about — nobody is trying to send a message,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We’re trying to win games.”
Hextall must go big or accept the painful reality. Sell. Sell. Sell. Recoup some assets now, perhaps shorten the coming pain. Drop the charade that winning now is possible.
With this group, winning isn’t possible.
The defensive players can’t hold leads or chip in even a modicum of offense. The top lines can be neutralized as the crater deepens, and the team can be exposed and embarrassed.
“We’ve done some pretty good things the last few games. Obviously, not tonight,” Jason Zucker said. “So, we need to move past this one pretty quick … We’ve got to throw this one and throw this one away as quick as possible.”
It’s a nice sentiment that things can be OK with a little more time, but the Penguins don’t have it. Even if they did, they have not provided any evidence things would be different.
It’s time. Wave the white flag. Make a big add before the NHL trade deadline or make some big subtractions, grab a few draft high draft picks, and set the team up for a better 2023-24.
Brian Dumoulin, Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger, and Tristan Jarry are pending UFAs. Select one or two. Perhaps Hextall could get lucky and bundle Kasperi Kapanen or Jan Rutta to one of them to remove the onerous contract for next season.
Thursday night marked the Penguins’ third extended losing streak of the season. They’ve lost seven, six, and now four in a row and counting.
Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings won.
In other words, the Penguins no longer control their playoff fate. The younger, hungrier teams are zooming past like the Penguins are stuck in a 1984 Dodge K Car with the left blinker flashing while they sputter at 55mph in the left lane.
The New York Islanders ponied up for Bo Horvat. The New York Rangers already snagged Vladimir Tarasenko and are about to get Patrick Kane from Chicago.
The New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes are shopping the NHL trade market, linked to big names even as they dominate the Metro Division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins?
Barring a surprise, a miracle, or both, it does not seem the Penguins are prepared to do anything of consequence.
Thursday night, the Washington Capitals traded away pending UFAs Dmitry Orlov and Garnett Hathaway to the Boston Bruins. Washington, who is quickly falling behind in the crowded wild card race, received a first-rounder, a second, and a third spread over the next three years.
That would be a substantial haul for the Penguins.
The Capitals accepted their fate, and if they don’t make the playoffs, they will at least have three more assets, including a first-rounder in a deep draft. No one could watch the Penguins be outclassed by Edmonton, on the heals of faceplanting twice against the New York Islanders, and getting thumped by the New Jersey Devils, and think this team can get it done.
The real choice is: Make it much better or dismantle it.