It’s a sad day but also a day when the pressure is off, and the boys can goof around without worrying about a game that night or their spot in the lineup. The Pittsburgh Penguins season is over, and no amount of scoring chances or rehashing the failed six-game series against the New York Islanders will bring it back. Now we wait and wonder if a blockbuster Penguins trade is in the works.
The Penguins made select players available for about 75 minutes on Friday morning and then head coach Mike Sullivan later in the afternoon.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now covered each interview and will provide in-depth coverage in the hours and days following. There were few surprises, a lot of disappointment, and many questions about the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin spoke. We did not expect Crosby to speak as the Penguins captain spoke immediately following the Penguins’ Game 6 loss.
He already offered his best defense of the Penguins core staying together. Kris Letang did the same on Friday morning.
The Penguins won the East Division with a strong kick in the second half of the season, but playoff hockey again bit the speedy Penguins as the New York Islanders took away space. The Penguins still managed to fight through the traffic and lead the league in scoring chances during the Round One series, but Jarry struggled to keep the puck out of the Penguins net.
Instead, questions abound regarding the Penguins’ future and if Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin will return, the expansion draft, Tristan Jarry, and the Penguins thoughts of their season.
“Bitter.” “It stings.” And “we thought we could have made a deep run” were the common answers.
Marcus Pettersson also offered some insight into Kris Letang that is worth sharing:
“Kris Letang goes out and plays his ass off every night. It’s a pleasure to play with him.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Parting Interviews, Kris Letang & Brandon Tanev.
Letang, 35, thought he had a pretty good season. He did, too. The Penguins defenseman had 45 points, including 38 assists in 55 games.
“I thought I did pretty well, stayed pretty consistent all year,” Letang said. “It was nice to have Todd (Reirden, assistant coach) back on the bench. It gave me a lot of confidence for my game. When things don’t go your way, it’s fun to have someone you can talk to and understand you.”
Pittsburgh Hockey Now will bring you many of the Penguins interviews over the next few days. There were no bombshells, though Letang’s acknowledgment of the Penguins trading him is significant. He could have shut down the talk but instead defended their work.
That sounds like someone making a case to stay together, not someone who assumes they will be. The future of the Penguins core, which now includes Jeff Carter based on numerous references to his leadership and Carter excelling in the playoffs, is in doubt.
Will the Penguins management, including GM Ron Hextall and President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, let the team roll into the future with the current core, or is the time now to say goodbye?
Obviously, Letang’s performance will never be enough to satisfy the anti-Letang crowd in the fanbase who insist he incorrectly pinched throughout the Round One series (because he should have known Anthony Beauvillier would beat three Penguins defenders).
The questions of Letang’s future hang over him and the organization. He deflected a question if he “earned” the right to finish his career as a Penguins. As Letang admitted, “earned” is a tricky word.
“This is a business. It’s not up to me to decide those things. Like I said in the past, Geno and Sid want to finish as Penguins,” Letang siad. “We truly believe in ourselves and I think we have a lot to offer. Earned is a tricky word. I would say that’s what we want. But it’s not up to us.”
The Penguins crash and bang winger was a force when healthy. He also scored more points per game than at any time in his career. While Tanev finished with only 16 points (7-9-16), he played only 32 games for a .50 ppg.
Tanev, 29, primarily united with his shutdown line teammates Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese throughout the season, but that trio was the Penguins third line for a good bit of the season. And they all added more offense.
“The longer you play in the NHL, the more confidence you have. Being comfortable with Teddy and Zach, too, playing together for a second year, it made things a little bit easier,” Tanev said. “The goal for myself is to grow every year. To get better at something every year and to bring that to the team….”
The Penguins have something special with Tanev on that line. Whether it remains intact is another matter. Aston-Reese will be a restricted free agent. Blueger and Tanev could be protection casualties in the coming Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
The sting of a first-round exist when the Pittsburgh Penguins genuinely believed (and correctly so) that they had a chance at something special. Because the Penguins have taken the first exit ramp in each of the last three seasons, there is some question about Mike Sullivan’s job security.
‘He does a great job for this group and has for many years…I see the work he puts in every day. Every day, he comes to the rink ready to work, excited, enthusiastic,” Tanev said of Sullivan. “He does a great job…that’s all you can say about Sully. He’s a great individual. An even better coach. We’re lucky to have him in Pittsburgh.”
The players were ready for the questions regarding the immediate future. Most put the decision on management and demurred any input.
“That’s management’s job. It’s not our job as players to worry about. I think our job is just to go out there and get ready to play and obviously now have a good offseason and come back ready, enthusiastic, excited for next season.”