Since the beginning of my writing career, which coincided with my nightly shows on 93-7 the Fan, there has been an occasionally stated theme and intent for much of the work we’ve done. Changing perceptions, dogma, and appreciating the game of hockey is important. The Pittsburgh Penguins won’t always have a Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, or Sidney Crosby. It’s important to appreciate the NHL game and hockey as it exists, the spirit in which the league is run, and why.
The coming years of the Penguins are going to explain why that was important.
Many of you are beginning to fear. We received the first submissions for the PHN Q&A on Monday, but they weren’t about the NHL trade market or free agency. Instead, they spawned an immediate column about angst and the legacy bending effects for Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and others.
Malkin seems to be bearing the brunt of the Penguins’ decline as a side effect of not being the best in the world. It remains some of the most unfair treatment I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s much like the years of misguided booing of Jagr, even though the Penguins had no choice but to trade him to survive.
Hopefully, we’ve made a little dent in bringing hockey’s full scope and context, not Penguins hockey, to yinz. It may come in handy as the league evolves.
To the Q&A we go!
Everyone is so down on Zucker because of contract buuut I feel like there’s a good case for him? He’s only played 63 games for the pens in total and they were a disaster and he’s a great locker room guy. Are there that many guys out there with a better resume for same cash?
— Simon hargus (@stickmanpolitik) August 17, 2021
There are two parts to your question, Simon. Zucker has surprisingly good statistics with the Penguins. He scored nine goals in 38 games last season, about a goal in every four games. That’s a 20-goal season, even though he was a bit less than .5 points per game. The season before, he had 12 points (6-6-12) in 15 games.
However, Zucker’s stats outperform him, and it doesn’t feel like he impacts games as much as a $5.5 million player should. Even though the Penguins gave up a top prospect and a first-round pick to get him, don’t expect Zucker to be a highly sought player on the NHL trade market.
He’s a solid player, yes. There is a case to be made, yes. But this is where the eye tests and even the baseline stats diverge. Now the second part:
Using PuckPedia.com’s player dashboard, in Zucker’s salary range exists Jake Guentzel, Nikolaj Ehlers, Filip Forsberg, and Teuvo Teravainen. Players such as Mike Hoffman and–wait for it–Brandon Saad make less.
So, Zucker has value to the Penguins, but there are plenty of better resumes for the same or less cash.
How truly “open” is the Cosby/Malkin window? Sucks that salary cap straps team to be good in cycles. The reason we got 66 68 87 71 29 is because Pens sucked.
To all fans born during 15yr playoff run. Winters are going to suck really really soon.
— The Fitzgerald Fanatic (@jon_jackson64) August 17, 2021
The Penguins’ ability to blitz the NHL trade front is over. Now the hard work begins.
We can’t say the Penguins are done because we don’t yet know the Penguins roster. Their “final” roster won’t be known until one day after the NHL trade deadline in March. I’ve seen too many teams invigorated or scrambled at the deadline. See Jeff Carter. See Derick Brassard.
But is winning and losing all that matter? The Pittsburgh Penguins’ long playoff streak is in jeopardy. If not now, it’s likely going to end sooner than later, unless GM Ron Hextall can replenish the Penguins center depth. All of the Penguins pivots, except fourth-line center Teddy Blueger, are 34 and older.
Refer back to the opening of the Q&A. I grew up like most of you. Star power, talent, and finesse win games. The other teams that don’t have it are jealous. When a few people and experiences within the game opened the door to other ways of thinking, I REALLY began to enjoy hockey.
If winning and losing is all that matters, you’re going to hate hockey soon enough. There will be no reflected glory. The things to find joy in are the evolution of players, the growth of prospects, available trades, and, of course, second-guessing the GM and coaches on personnel. You know, all of the good stuff. It will be different, but it was often a lot of fun for the 10-12,000 fans that showed up from 2002-2004.
I don’t think the Pittsburgh Penguins are there yet. If they don’t make the playoffs this season, it will be because injuries ravaged them (again), or Philadelphia/New York squeaks by at the end.
I know that Hextall is patient but he can’t think this current team has a chance to compete for the cup! If not how are they setting up for the future? Could we see Malkin and or Letang moved, maybe even Rust?
— Drizzy16 (@ryandperfect101) August 17, 2021
Second question first. No. To flip Terence Stamp’s character from Yes Man, “No. Say it 1000 times. Say it 1000 more times. No!”
First, Bryan Rust. If the Penguins can’t find the money for a 27-goal, gritty, fast team player who bleeds for the team, then blow it up.
Now to the big enchilada. Again.
The only possibility that Malkin or Letang are traded is if they want to be dealt. Be it through high contract asks or forthright asks to go, at this point, that’s the only way, but we do not have any indication of that.
If Hextall trades Malkin or Letang at mid-season and gets only rental returns, it will have been awful, franchise-altering asset management.
Former GM Jim Rutherford said both should retire as Pittsburgh Penguins. GM Ron Hextall and Brian Burke have said all three should retire as Penguins. Unless you begin to hear differently from credible, reliable outlets (and not rumor sites), assume the answer is No Man, No!
To your first Q, Drizzy. That part perplexes me, too. I’ve been around and around with it in my head. I consider part of this job to be analysis, too. And I’ve looked at it from all angles. I must wonder if the prices on July 28 changed Hextall’s plans. He admitted to being surprised by the prices that day. Were there additional adds they wanted to make? Would that have precipitated a trade?
We’ll never know, but this team is a step back from last season. However, they’re setting up for the future by keeping “the future” in the system instead of trading Sam Poulin, Nathan Legare, Filip Hallander, or P.O. Joseph for immediate “win now” help.
The Final Rose:
Are the Penguins done adding?
— AP (@bigmoneyap1) August 17, 2021
Well, umm, err, maybe?
It seems the NHL trade chatter is frozen. The Pittsburgh Penguins have about $1.6 million in actual salary cap space, even as PuckPedia.com lists them at $121k. Sami Vatanen and Erik Gudbranson remain free agents and would fill the Penguins’ need for a right-side defenseman.
I see several forwards who could be available on PTOs or two-way deals, including Riley Sheahan, who would be a nice temporary add as fourth-line center as Malkin heals from knee surgery.
But that biggie we all expected or wanted (to cover) seems remote.