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Kingerski: If This is All the Penguins Have Left, Time to Break up the Band

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang

It was a sad night at PPG Paints Arena. There was no funeral procession or ceremony on Tuesday night in what could be the final season with the Pittsburgh Penguins for stalwarts Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust. There was no warning, advance notice, or way to brace for the jarring and complete collapse.

In a playoff series, things become inevitable. The end or potential extinguishment is defined, and both teams usually know it. There have been plenty of signals over the past few weeks, but the visible collision of the Penguins and their decline on Tuesday in the 5-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers was powerful nonetheless.

After 16 years, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have given everything to the Penguins organization. They took friendly deals when contemporaries were paid more. They sacrificed and bled for the organization on the way to three Stanley Cups.

But if this is all the Penguins have left, it’s time to say goodbye.

They stand in elite company amongst Hall of Famers and greats, but if the Penguins are no better than what we’ve witnessed for weeks, it cannot continue for another season.

The recipe is using stale ingredients, and the cake is crumbling.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have tried to find their mojo, get to their game, or otherwise rise to the challenge of the serious part of the NHL schedule.

But they have failed. Other teams have beaten the Penguins by playing better, being better, and the Penguins’ effort has withered in an unspoken seeming acceptance.

“I think, like the rest of the team, we probably got a little frustrated when the bounces didn’t go our way. But that’s just something that I think we have to work through, especially with this last game. We’ve got to keep our heads up no matter what happens in the game, just keep grinding away because we know we’re good players. We have a good team. So I think at this point, we’ve just got to fight through whatever adversity that we have in the games,” Rickard Rakell said.

Perhaps it was the pair of losses to the New York Rangers a few weeks ago when the Penguins realized that another team demonstrably outskated them. Maybe it was the heartless loss to the Washington Capitals, and the “almost had ’em” losses to the Boston Bruins that mortally wounded the Penguins. 

After a four-day rest last week, the Penguins had a chance to reset and begin playoff preparations. Things began well with a win over the New York Islanders and against the soft, unmotivated Detroit Red Wings.

But a no-show loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and a collapse in a nationally televised game against Connor McDavid and the uber-talented Edmonton Oilers allowed the Penguins demons to roar back.

When pushed, the Penguins could not push back.

“…Confidence is a fleeting thing. You can get it back just as fast as you lose it. And your biggest foundation for confidence–for me–is preparation and readiness. And that’s your foundation. And that’s what we need to build,” Sullivan said. “So, I know this group is capable. They’re an accomplished group. We’ve got a lot of experience inside that locker room. We got to draw on that experience right now more than ever,

If a quick end does occur, either at the hand of the New York Rangers or the Florida Panthers, it should be the end of the road for this Penguins era. There will be no more “hope” to retool around three players in their mid-30s (four, if you count Jeff Carter, and five, including Bryan Rust, who will be 30 next month).

In the past, I have argued for loyalty, or to allow the players to decide their fate based on play, and for the Pittsburgh Penguins to allow Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin to deservedly retire with the only organization they’ve ever known.

However, in a sense, the Penguins’ core has indeed decided their future. This isn’t good enough. It’s not even close, which is not fair to either side.

Obviously, the collapse isn’t Evgeni Malkin’s fault. Or Kris Letang. But they are primary figures in the team’s success or failure.

Sentiment be damned. GM Ron Hextall made a shrewd addition at the NHL trade deadline for Rakell, who has worked beyond the most optimistic predictions. Yet the team has no answers for opponents. Evgeni Malkin has one more game to score his 20th goal of the season and do so in only 40 games, but Sullivan generously called Malkin’s even-strength play “sporadic.”

Sullivan said Rust was helpful to keep Malkin on the straight and narrow, literally. But that line didn’t produce, so Rakell was back with Malkin, and Rust was back with Sidney Crosby.

Neither line produced on Tuesday, though Crosby’s line had some pretty chances, which ended with Mike Smith.

But the whole of the team gave up. White flag. Surrender.

It was an unusual sight for these Pittsburgh Penguins, built on Mike Sullivan’s “resilience,” “Just play,” and mental toughness.

Resilience.

A team doesn’t discover resilience in the playoffs. Nor does it find its identity. Those are assignments for the regular season, and the knowledge is to be applied in the postseason.

Unfortunately, the Penguins have unraveled, and not even Sidney Crosby, who has been carrying the team on his back for weeks, can save them.

And if this is the reality, these Penguins, and this Penguins era, need to end so another group can begin again.

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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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PenguinsFan69
PenguinsFan69
24 days ago

I disagree. The team has no other assets, and there aren’t pending free agents at the same leve as Malkin and Letang.

David
David
24 days ago
Reply to  PenguinsFan69

True. But it is about money. Malkin makes $9.5 million per year which is more than Crosby. They cannot keep him for anything close to that.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
24 days ago
Reply to  David

Crosby deserves his salary plus and Malkin a big pay cut or cut loose.

Randy
Randy
13 days ago
Reply to  Lifeson74

So cut his pay. How many point per game seasons have you had in your nhl career. Geno has been a team player through all of his career holding syds cup. It’s time to give him credit check the stats the guy is a top 20 player all time and didn’t make top 100. The math doesn’t add up.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
24 days ago
Reply to  PenguinsFan69

This is what happens when you trade your future away and have your GM flee to another team!

David
David
23 days ago
Reply to  Lifeson74

True, but I think it is also a fact that trading that future away won them 2 Stanley Cups. This was coming either way.

Andrew
Andrew
24 days ago
Reply to  PenguinsFan69

It’s not about assets, its about whats available in free agency, possibly restricted free agents, and maybe a few players they could pick-up off waivers. Players the Pens couldn’t get with Malkin and Letang under contract. It’s also very possible the reason Malkin and Letang could not be traded when the Pens had them under contract, 1. because the Pens demands were to high and or 2. teams simply weren’t interested. However I will be keeping an eye out on free-agency to see if teams sign them to the same numbers Malkin at 9.5 mill and Letang at 7.5 mill… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
24 days ago

AMEN Let the changes begin!

Dave
Dave
24 days ago

I don’t hear anything about a coaching change just blame for the players. Sullivan hasn’t been able to get this talented team past the first round in the playoffs for the past three years. He has no plan B when things don’t go well.He never has.Time for him to be replaced and to begin a new direction with someone else at the helm. A few years ago they fired all the assistant coaches which didn’t really change things as most of the problem is with him. I don’t have much faith in him for the playoffs this year and predict… Read more »

David
David
24 days ago
Reply to  Dave

I thought it was a mistake to fire all the assistants. It sure did not help. I would not be surprised if Sullivan was fired after this season.

ehasenel
ehasenel
24 days ago

How about we wait until the end of the season for the post-mortem; let’s enjoy another playoffs and remember this is the 16th time in a row we have been able to appreciate the second season.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
24 days ago
Reply to  ehasenel

Yes let’s endure the frustration of another playoff series losing in 5 games winning possibly one with this goaltending tandem defense and listless offense for the most part and power play stats this year!

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  ehasenel

exactly. All these knuckleheads already calling for a rebuild. Where will they be next year when we don’t even qualify. Good lord how the success has caused all this spoiled fanbase.

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
24 days ago

Your analysys may be right, but your timing is all wrong. The time to make this judgement was/is: (1) before the trade deadline, when there was a chance to recoup players/dollars for players of value or (2) after the playoffs, when the final data is in and management can reconfigure the team. Right now, you are stating the obvious when there is nothing to be done. If this was not your opinion at (1), then what were you seeing then that you don’t see now? Are the Pens just incapable without ZAR and Simone? Or were there warning signs that… Read more »

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Donnelly

Agree, should of moved on from some guys that were FA as well as bringing in a vet goalie. Even before the deadline, this team wasnt a cup contender.

GBG
GBG
24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Donnelly

Agree with the sentiment if maybe a bit harsh. A lot of teams would have jumped on Malkin at the deadline for a workable 20 something winger or D man to build on (or get rid of later). They are faced with losing three decent players (Rust and Letang are still producing, though I don’t for the life of me understand Letang’s penchant for blue line turnovers) with no return. Of the 3 Rust should be brought back, Letang would be nice but he may demand mucho money more than the Pens can afford. Time to load up on draft… Read more »

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Donnelly

interesting comments. I was thinking about this during the Oilers game. Wonder if the Pens tried to move Kapanen to the Ducks for Rakell instead. That I think would have been a much better move. Not saying ZAK would take us to the Cup finals, but the puck possession and that one killer buzzsaw line that dominated time in the other teams end is gone and that is not a coincidence that has occurred since he and Dom left. Kapanen is an empty sweater. We can move on from Malkin by not resigning, but the GM will have to work… Read more »

Dave
Dave
24 days ago

Time to replace the coach. Actually a few years to late. When things go wrong he has no plan B. A team with that much talent should not be taking all the blame. Penguins may be headed for a fourth early exit from the playoffs with the same coach.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
24 days ago

I dont think its surprising to see these guys regress abit as well as the team. The moves by the former GM in terms of trades And extending a few guys that have under performed for sometime, was like a heart punch from Stan Stasiak. I understand the gamble, but it has failed miserably, leaving this team & mgmt in the situation it currently resides. This leadership group needs to bend if it really is going to revent itself. I not a fan of keeping all the draft picks, because so few actually make an impact. Clear salary and for… Read more »

Cal
Cal
24 days ago

Yeah its possible the team can go on a Cinderella run in the playoffs but very unlikely. I just know I’m going to be wondering what could have been at the draft in Montréal by keeping this lineup intact.

Jackmccrory
Jackmccrory
24 days ago

And excellent article Dan. Maybe a year too late but you can see the exhaustion in their eyes as her age is catching up to them towards the end of the season. I also believe Sullivan has to absorb some of the blame for his stubbornness with the players. There are players on WBS that earned some ice this season. “Young legs” to take some time to rest older players down the stretch. I’m sure that 9&42 and others could have easily been replaced by WBS forwards. I don’t think these guys from Boston are going to be as patient… Read more »

Zach
Zach
24 days ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

No, they didn’t pay 900 million to watch the Penguins be stagnant. This is history, this will be the last postseason for Crosby, Malkin, and Letang together at least one of them are gone. Hextall is not going to overpay to keep either of these two, because of their age. He’s even said so himself in a January article, that if these players are looking for big paydays, they might have to go elsewhere to find it.

Big B
Big B
24 days ago

100% the fault of Geneover.He is minus 11 and Sid is plus 19 and that my good sir is a 30 goal swing.Rust was hot and when he went to the Geno line he froze quickly.Earlier Jeff Carter was hot and when he went to the Geno school of hockey he got cold on Geno’s wing.Malkin won’t adjust his game and if he would he still would dominate.He has the skill but not the will.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
24 days ago
Reply to  Big B

Exactly. The Pens were winning in November without Geno, and we all know you win cups in November. Get rid of Geno. End the season in November. Problem solved.

Big B
Big B
24 days ago

The coach or the players have to change.Since they keep playing stupid hockey aka non stop turnovers and my gawd the icing of the puck either Sully needs to change his message or the players who are not listening have to go.He has to play Guys like Zohorna or O’Connor but he won’t give chances.

Pete Hoffman
Pete Hoffman
24 days ago

I’ve said all along this was a show me year. 58 and 17 have showed me. 71, 9, 42, and 16 have not.
But the Pens will not win another playoff series unless and until they get some beef. Beef on D and beef on O. The teams that win today have size. Pens do not.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
24 days ago

I’d love to know how much of this is related to already winning 3 Stanley Cups and not needing the drive to win their first.

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

I think it’s absolutely related to playing all these exhibition games right now. With there past success, what are they playing for right now? Nothing. Does it really matter who they play? they don’t care like the fans do. Do you want to spend your off day between games 1 and 2 in crappy NYC or the sunny beaches of South Florida?

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
24 days ago

The big young guys on the farm never had an honest chance to make an impact. Maybe they aren’t that good but at least they would have something to prove every night. Zucker, Kapenien are busts that doesn’t help either.

Chris R
Chris R
24 days ago

Okay, it kind of feels like you’re trying to gall them into action. I’d argue the problem isn’t as much the core (because other than Malkin, who’s barely been around, the others have been very good) as the surrounding cast. Losing Tanev, McCann, Ceci, even Gaudreau, was no small thing. Many of the additions were “found.” Most of them have added value, but is it enough to replace what was lost? And some of that value has come in spurts rather than from a consistent performance—which leaves everyone else to pick up the slack. Then you add in the disappearing… Read more »

jackw
jackw
24 days ago

You know, maybe changes are needed. Maybe we should swap out those “fans” ready to show “the core” the door for fans from – oh, I don’t know – maybe Buffalo, or Arizona or any other city who aren’t spoiled rotten and have suffered for years. But, you know, those “fans” coach youth league teams! They know how to play the game! Heck, they could be GM of the year any year in the NHL! Maybe we should swap out writers who declare a coach to be a surefire Jack Adams winner (for single handedly leading a team of role… Read more »

Zach
Zach
24 days ago

Well, David Morehouse stepped down and resigned as President and CEO. Depending on what happens, this is the first of many changes coming.

David
David
24 days ago

The cold-hearted fact is, the Pens cannot keep Malkin. He is the highest paid player on the team, even more than Crosby. He misses lots of time every year due to injury, and even though he can still score, he is not the player he was five years ago. Could they justify resigning him for the $9.5 million per year he now makes? Let him go and use the money to sign Rust and Rakell. Keep Letang.

Last edited 24 days ago by David
David
David
24 days ago

“Sullivan said Rust was helpful to keep Malkin on the straight and narrow.” Quite revealing. Malkin has been in the league for 16 years, and he needs to be kept on the straight and narrow. IMO, Rust began to decline when Malkin came back and he was put on his line.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
24 days ago

I’m of two minds on this one: On the one hand, I get the sentiment. The Pens are in cap hell and the core can’t carry a team the way they once did. Easiest way to create space is to let guys walk. On the other hand, there’s 20M invested in Zucker, Kapanen, McGinn, Petersson, and Marino, so how much of the problem is the core per se and how much is asking the core to do more with less than they were asked to do a half dozen years ago? Regardless of what comes of the UFA’s, I don’t… Read more »

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

I wouldn’t put McGinn in that group but yes the rest needs to go, along with Malkin. That’s over $36-million in cap space I think. Trouble is who is going to take on Zucker now that he’s an injury risk and you are going to have to give up your first round pick to get someone to take on the Pettersson contract. Marino, maybe Rutherford takes him since he seems so enamoured with him

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
24 days ago
Reply to  Kris

I’d guess they stick with Zucker for his last year and then let him walk (simply because they probably would have to give up too much to move him this off-season).

jeffrey
jeffrey
24 days ago

Sorry, but 16 straight years getting into the playoffs and always giving its fans a chance, and lots of wins should count for something. The bottom line, and I know its tough to accept, is that you can’t win the Championship every year, you can’t. Not in any US professional sport, the leagues work to keep that from happening, parity is seen all around. Montreal made the cup finals last year, not even a playoff team this year. Chicago hasn’t been 500 for some time after their cup runs, Dallas made the cup finals two years ago, fighting just for… Read more »

James
James
23 days ago
Reply to  jeffrey

Yours is the correct attitude and a better way of looking at the team that what Dan had to say. I just think he fits in far more with the crows he likes to drone about than he cares to admit. This isn’t a great write up, let’s be clear. Thus was a drawn out frustration tweet. An ungrateful one at that.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
24 days ago

Regardless of what happens with the UFAs and RFAs, the new ownership group has to sell tickets. So they’ll spend to fill what positions require filling. And Sid will still be Sid.

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
24 days ago

Did Morehouse leave or was he pushed out? I think the latter and this is a message to the team that the party’s over and changes are coming. The new ownership isn’t going to accept these results and won’t allow sentiment to influence decisions.

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan
24 days ago

Best column on this site yet

Paul
Paul
24 days ago

Expect yuge changes soon. The new ownership group didn’t pay all that money to fail, and they have no loyalty to the past here. My guess is that only Guentzel, Sid and Sully are safe, although Sully will be free to leave if he doesn’t like the master plan. Will attempt to resign Rakell, Rust, Malkin and Letang to save face but won’t splurge on any of them except Rakell perhaps. Seems that current management is prepared to have one down season even if it means the team finishes out of the playoffs. I’ve said this before, but I would… Read more »

Last edited 24 days ago by Paul
Paul
Paul
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul

I also was told by a person who worked with Burke in the past that he was brought in to assist in the ownership transfer and front office reorganization. That would explain why he hasn’t been heard from much publicly in the last year. Expect him to be one of the biggest shooters when all is said and done. As for where this leaves Hextall exactly, stay tuned . . .

Last edited 24 days ago by Paul
Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Well that sounds like a yuge deal then doesn’t it?

Frank
Frank
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Is there a bigger bag of wind than Burke?
Maybe he fascinates Canadiens but his value is totally lost on me. He is just Don Cherry or Mike Milbury in a better suit.

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul

yuge? Really?

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Why would you pay an aging star who is a turnover machine if you are anticipating a down year.

Uros
Uros
24 days ago

If you can’t beat them, join them. But can you imagine how shocked everyone will be when we make it to the second round with Malkin dominating? Can’t wait to read the article and the comments.

James
James
23 days ago
Reply to  Uros

Yeah I agree. Dan poops on all the lowly people that freak out about bad performances and here we are with just the most pathetic drama queen gloom and doom article you could imagine. It’s really unnerving how ungrateful he is about these players sometimes. But he is probably a Democrat so I should not be surprised at the hypocrisy and lack of self awareness.

Uros
Uros
23 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Well, I did not see that coming. I hate politics, love hockey and don’t want to offend anybody. I also love Malkin’s play, so that aboit sums it up.

Uros
Uros
22 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Just dissociating myself from all the hate above and I’m sorry if my comment sparked some inadequate reaction. It wasn’t meant to.

Andrew
Andrew
24 days ago

Malkin reminds me of Jagr, he’s just out there to collect a paycheck but sometimes he shows up to play. Letang is playing like he has been over the last 16 seasons,actually he’s playing smarter, he maybe worth resigning but he is making 7.5 mill per season on the deal he signed, and I wouldn’t resign him beyond 5 mill per season, he’s at the age where defense men of his skill set drop off, Malkin isn’t worth 9.5 mill, and he really didn’t take a ‘pay cut’ at that 9,5 mill per season when he signed that deal. I… Read more »

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Andrew

Letang is currently at $7.25-million. He wants $35 over five and I’m writing that check everyday, all day. Sid is not retiring after his contract so those two will still be playing together for at least 5 more years. Geno, thanks for the memories, but time to go.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
24 days ago
Reply to  Kris

I’m writing that check too… but, for whatever reason, I was under the impression that Letang wanted *more* than his current contract, not less… and why not? I’d be fine with 3×9 myself.

Rob
Rob
24 days ago

They don’t start a full rebuild without trading Crosby. If they don’t do that, then Sid will be a lead singer without a band to play with. There are no #2 centers or #1 defenseman on the free agent market. Hextall doesn’t have assets to make a trade for one or both of those type of players. If they don’t sign Malkin or Letang, they are officially a rebuilding team and they shouldn’t hold Sid hostage when he is still a top player in the league. My best case scenario is trade the players who aren’t performing Petterson, Kapanen, Zucker,… Read more »

Last edited 24 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Rob
Rob
23 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Do you think any of them would be an upgrade over what Malkin and Letang provide? I am hesitant to believe that is true.

Kris
Kris
24 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Vincent Trochek. You want to sell tickets you bring hometown boy back to center the 2nd line. Check your facts before writing.

Rob
Rob
23 days ago
Reply to  Kris

Trochek is more of a 3c. Geno puts up better offensive numbers. He may be able to do the job if given the chance. The problem of supporting cast may still remain. Given that the wingers on the team currently only play well with Sid.

David
David
24 days ago

Sullivan should be fired just for saying Kapanen is a “potentially elite player” LOL.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
24 days ago

Zucker hurt again? Time to let him go or take a big pay cut next year or better yet trade him to the GM who coveted him and traded fir him and gave our future away for him.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
24 days ago

As far as Rakell the big question is will the Pens sign him or a bigger question should be does he want to stay here?

trackback

[…] Pittsburgh: Dan Kingerski advocated for the Penguins core with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to stick together and the organization to bend (within reason) to make it happen. Not anymore. Read on–If the last two months are all that’s left, it’s time to say goodbye to the Pittsburgh Penguins core. […]

Uros
Uros
24 days ago

Wait, I just remembered. Wasn’t everybody complaining about how small Crosby’s line is and how they can’t compete in the playoffs after last year’s exit? I also seem to remember that Malkin was one of the better players on one leg. How things change from regular to post season. Incredible, isn’t it? Especially considering that Crosby has that same line from last year.

Rob
Rob
23 days ago
Reply to  Uros

Let’s pick and choose who the scapegoat will be. This week is Malkin

Rob St. Pierre
Rob St. Pierre
23 days ago

Indeed it does look like the end, and possibly for a while. I think the Penguins will be lucky to win one game, let alone a series, this playoff season. As far as the three major UFAs (Letang, Malkin, and Rust) go, well, I would say the only one worth keeping is Letang. But for what? Even though he’s approaching his mid and late 30s, his physical regimen is priceless and even at ages 36, 37, and 38, he could play more than 20 minutes a night (I wouldn’t use him for 25+ each and every game. That’s asking too… Read more »

Randy
Randy
13 days ago

The sky is falling again eh! You are a drama writer. This team can still win with the right “cogs” if u will

Randy
Randy
13 days ago

Malkin just needs his minutes cut for a more responsible forward. I see him signing another friendly deal. We shall see Gretzky was traded so anything can happen

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