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Kingerski: Penguins Still in Pieces, Hextall Could be Backed into Corner

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins are not yet establishing a base for any post-Crosby era. Signing Bryan Rust on Saturday seemed to be less of a divining rod of future intentions and more effort to remain competitive right now. Whether or not Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin return, Penguins GM Ron Hextall said the team is trying to win now.

It’s still about a Stanley Cup, and FSG ownership is on board with Hextall’s vision.

But the “how” remains sketchy. Hextall’s current plan seems to be more reactive to external decisions than an internal path. Reactions are where mistakes happen.

“Geno’s obviously been a great player, one of the greatest in the history of the game. And we’d like to keep him as a Pittsburgh Penguin for the rest of his career. In a perfect world, Geno retires a Penguin. And I think Tanger is the same… They’re generational players,” Hextall said. “…We have some some issues and areas that we have to work through in terms of the salary cap, everything’s got to match up, and it’s a puzzle.”

It sure is a puzzle. Hextall seemed sincere in his desire to re-sign Malkin and Letang, especially Malkin. Read what you will into Hextall’s immediate praise of Malkin, “and Tanger, too.”

But why are both sides just finding out what comes next? Shouldn’t that have been known before now? Instead of weeks to reassemble or retool a team, Hextall could have had a year or months, including options at the NHL trade deadline.

Don’t forget RFAs Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen. Each is owed a decision or qualifying offer, too. Hextall said those decisions haven’t yet been made. Since each is arbitration-eligible, the Penguins can’t make those offers or decisions until they know if they’re spending on Malkin and Letang.

Be forewarned.

Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin might come back. They might not. The Penguins may have much the same team that lost their fourth-straight opening playoff round or scramble to replace Letang and Malkin. Nazem Kadri and Vincent Trocheck will headline the UFA centers market, which means their price tag will be steep and there will be fierce competition for their services.

Hextall appeared to say the Penguins would not count on Jeff Carter to be their second-line center should Malkin depart, but there aren’t many options on the free-agent market.

“First and foremost, we would like to sign Geno. So we’ll work through that. And then if at some point we realize that can’t happen, then we’ll certainly look elsewhere,” Hextall said.

In the weakened Metro Division, the Penguins figure to take advantage of the suddenly lost New York Islanders, the imploding Philadelphia Flyers, and the even more rapidly aging Washington Capitals. So, opportunity remains.

But what of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ future? We’re into crunch time, and no one is quite sure what comes next.

Count this business owner as one who hates to wait on others, but it sometimes works to your advantage. Knowing what the other side wants is crucial.

But signing Rust only keeps the Penguins competitive; it doesn’t exactly reveal the grand plan, yet.

Now comes the hard part.

With Guentzel-Crosby-Rust, Tristan Jarry in net, and even a mediocre blue-line without Kris Letang, the Penguins are a playoff-worthy team. They’re not a Cup-worthy team.

To be a “good team,” the Penguins need a better middle-six, and that is where Hextall must put his resources. However, there are teams with more resources and fewer inhibitions. How will Hextall compete in another free-agent frenzy?

Last season, he went to the table with what he thought was a good amount of money but came home only with Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen.

Will he “go for it” and splash the cash on younger free agents to replace Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang? Will he short sell and hope the top line is good enough to overcome a bargain rack second line?

If Hextall is too cautious, the Penguins will get caught in the middle using mediocre replacements with neither a future nor a present.

If Hextall is too aggressive, the Penguins could get strapped and lose their vitally important depth.

If Hextall brings back the same team, the Penguins will likely suffer the same fate.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plan is still a puzzle in pieces. It’s time to start putting them together. Trades can take months. Reactions are where mistakes happen, and the Penguins’ puzzle could be missing pieces.

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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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Paul
Paul
1 month ago

If all Hexy can do is play the My-hands-are-tied card and lock himself in his room, then he should be fired or resign. This is a job for an aggressive, knowledgeable visionary who has a pair. It’s obvious by now that he doesn’t qualify.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Totally agree Burke is also useless

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Paul, agree and disagree. First a tremendous article by Dan. One of the best and most detailed personnel issues being faced by Pens currently. First let’s be honest that Hexy and Burke was handed this mess with at the time no Cap space. Everyone responding loves the Pens. I think some changes can be made and still compete.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

Dan addressed the problems of the roster. Lightning have stayed extremely competitive with changes every yr. Agree with 2 Centers available, but will be cheaper and younger than Malkin. I think we have to make some smart trades with Dman. A couple critical moves and the Wild and Panthers improved. Let’s hope Hexy and Burke can make smart and correct moves.

Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
1 month ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

The Wild and Panthers might have improved, but the Wild also lost in the 1st round and the Panthers were absolutely embarrassed in their 2nd round sweep.

David
David
1 month ago

The Pens cannot build for the future AND be competitive now. Not with their current lineup and salary cap. So try to win NOW. They are going to stink in 3 years or so anyways. Might as well go through a few terrible years and get high draft picks. That is how they did it twice before.

Charmaine
Charmaine
1 month ago

It seems like they know Letang will be gone…I don’t like that…he’s still very good

Jim
Jim
1 month ago
Reply to  Charmaine

Letang has said ” I will not negotiate thru the media.I told the Pen’s I would give them a chance to match what ever offer I get before i sign it”. That is not negotiations.That shows where his loyalties are. For him it is all about money and a long term 5-6 year contract.The Pen’s know it will be difficult to match other offers given their cap situation.

Justin
Justin
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Agreed I originally thought Hextall was dragging his feet with negotiations but now after that statement from Letang I think he’s the one pushing it to FA. Here all along I thought Rust was gonna be the one to bolt for the payday but looks like it’s gonna be Letang. I really don’t know where they go if that’s the case, I’m not too high on any FA RD, at least any I’d be happy with over Letang

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Hextall has his own thoughts on how to be a GM. Not my favorite approach either but “he has the job” so we all need to adjust. He is deliberate, not to be rushed, and secretive to a fault. The polar opposite of Rutherford. Anyone expecting he is going to outline a path less than two weeks after the team exit is not paying attention. When he is ready he will decide what if anything he is going to say. Any theory as to what he is thinking is just guesses coming from those that like him or those that… Read more »

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Amen, Frank. He won’t deal with or tell media anything. I do like RD Josh Manson. Pen fans would love him. These yinzers don’t know Hexy. Philly fans hated him because like you said, he’s private and deliberate in moves. Frank, your opinion on his statement he definitely believes Rangers tried to injure Crosby, Guentzel and Rakell? Shocked he was so open in comments.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

I was reading Hextall loves Manson. Let’s keep an eye on that.

Tim Curtis
Tim Curtis
1 month ago

IMO it would be foolish to re-sign Malkin. He’s too often injured, is inconsistent, and takes too much time off while on the ice, Rakell could be penciled in as our 2nd line center and probably do a better overall job as Malkin.
Try to re-sign Letang for a bit less money by adding an extra year. Use the remaining money to keep our better players and look at adding 1-2 free agents to complete the puzzle.
Time is now for this team. Go get ’em, Hextall!

Johnny
Johnny
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

Rakell is not a center.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago

I have to say, the last 2 or 3 PHN articles feel dark and negative. It is bad enough I have to feel like it is doomsday with the economy. I don’t want to feel that way when I read an article about my favorite sports team. I have a few words for the PHN writers and readers. My first word is “optimistic”. My second word is “breathe”. My third word is “chess”. My fourth word is “patience”. My fifth word is “enjoy” The Pens will sign Malkin and Letang at reasonable prices and term. They may be older, but… Read more »

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Thank you. I want solid analysis even though I may disagree with it at times.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dan, it was a very solid analysis of current Penguins situation. It was refreshing to hear the truth that Penguins have some serious concerns and not easy to address. Great article.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago

Crosby is otherworldly. That said, I fail to see how this team, with an older Malkin, will be better next year and for whatever additional years they sign him… regardless of what they pay him. (Although, I’d be impressed if he worked on his face offs over the summer. When Sid wasn’t so good at them, he put the work in. Geno… Not so much.) I think folks here fall into two camps: 1) Let Geno walk and put the $ to other use, or 2) sign him for the best value we can and hope for the best. I’m… Read more »

Crazyhorse87
Crazyhorse87
1 month ago

The Pens were very old now, they’ll be that much older next season. The last four seasons were just appearances, keep it up and next season might be a no-show.

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago

Why would you keep this team together as is?

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Bachinga

Maybe cause they had a 100 pt season and were dominating the rangers in that first round. Yes, unfortunately we had injuries and we lost. But had a few circumstances been different. We take that series in 5 or 6. But this team has great chemistry and could have easily been facing the hurricanes and had good odds to get past them. I see the malkin hate. But we will not get kadri and probably not trocheck either. Plus malkin when healthy was producing at a point per game rate. He had a great series against the rangers. 3 goals… Read more »

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