There have been only a few major changes to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ on-ice product over the last 18 years. A few big names have come and gone, and a few GMs have arrived and departed, but the primary tenants of the Penguins lineup remain the same. Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin are still standing.
Even the Penguins coach has remained constant for over eight years.
And it seems many Penguins fans are sick of it.
The calls to tear it down and begin rebuilding grow to shouting decibels after every loss. Wins? They draw little more than cricket chirps.
Supposedly, the desire, nay, demand to rebuild stems from a desire to see more Stanley Cup championships, and the conclusion is since the Penguins cannot and will not win the Cup with the current core, it’s time to strip it bare.
But no one can rightly conclude that merely beginning the rebuild will bring more Cups. Or playoff appearances. Or anything else worth watching.
How quickly people forget Generation Next.
I don’t think Penguins fans dislike the franchise or any of the players, but I do sense an exhaustion. In a society in which the news cycle no longer waits for the fish wrap to hit the doorstep the next morning, and the news cycle is reduced from 24 hours to 24 minutes and 24 hours of comments and arguing, the Penguins have been a staid constant.
And I think people are bored with it. If it would just change, it would be better, right?
It sure seems like Penguins fans are bored with the core and want some exciting change. That’s the only acceptable solution. There’s no illuminating fact or figure, no amount of wins that will satiate the hunger for change, for something new.
Those folks are missing a couple of details. Change everything except for Sidney Crosby? Is he expected to remain loyal when all around him are parted out like a junkyard Saab?
The Penguins’ dramatically improved play over the past month was met with verbal golf claps or indifference. Enjoying a win or good news almost seemed to cause some people pain. I know–I read every comment, watch social media, and even visit some of the message boards.
Yet after every loss, regardless of the win in between, the choir springs to life as if the director has raised his arms on the Mormon Tabernacle choir.
It’s wild. It’s like the fans hope we lose so they can say “I told you so”.
Really sucks the joy out of just watching them play and being a fan. Twitter has been unbearable after a loss
— CrosbytoMalkin (@Hockeytalk8771) January 21, 2024
Very well said.
The “I told you so” part is what’s interesting.
There will come a day when it’s time to say goodbye to Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, too. That day may have been two years ago. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest the Penguins should have gone a different direction with Malkin, and they surely could have missed the playoffs last season with someone else in the second-line center role.
But what does driving in the rearview mirror accomplish other than missing the road in front?
Every discussion becomes about what should have been done instead of what needs to be done with the existing framework.
The existing framework includes Malkin, Crosby, Letang, AND Mike Sullivan.
A team on the incline doesn’t usually fire a head coach. Give credit where it’s due. By mid-December, I think we all wondered if the bread had become stale. Maybe it had, or maybe the roster was still figuring itself out, and there wasn’t enough secondary support.
But the Penguins are 8-3-3 in their last 14, and if they take care of the games in hand with the same success, they will be in the playoffs.
Malkin will always be an adventure in the defensive zone. Our examination Sunday showed that perhaps the best thing Sullivan can do is keep Malkin apart from Erik Karlsson. Together, the two are a gold mine for opponents.
The upticks in the standings, improved play of Drew O’Connor, the fourth line, and overall defensive responsibility shine a positive light on Sullivan. Patience and tinkering with Ryan Graves’s game is also starting to pay dividends.
There will also come a day when it’s time to say goodbye to Sullivan. This ain’t it, either.
So, you’ll just have to be patient. The Penguins’ contractual situations with the over 35+ deals accompanied by no movement clauses mean the Penguins won’t tear it down, but president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas must keep taking big swings around the core — until they don’t want the situation anymore, either.
Expect a retool and a few more years of at least two of the core. Maybe even the coach, too. Having the best of the world isn’t a bad consolation prize.