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Anderson: Had to Let Opinion on Crosby-Malkin-Letang Sink in

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang
Evgeni Malkin, left, and Kris Letang

Maybe you went through something similar when it came to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang remaining as the core of the team moving forward.

This seasoned sports journalist was caught a little off guard, truth be told, by slowly reaching the opinion that keeping those three together was the right move.

By far the right move.

The transformation started predictably enough with accepting the idea that Malkin and/or Letang could be moving on in free agency this summer. Even embracing the notion that perhaps it was time for the team to do some rebuilding and refreshing around Crosby, who has three more years on his contract and certainly isn’t going anywhere.

But the more the situation was analyzed and scrutinized, and especially the more some advocated for moving on, the more a nagging thought grew into a full-blown reaction – that those calling for a refresh over a reboot were wrong.

So when Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin were eventually re-signed, and each at a workable cap hit of $6.1 million, it seemed as if Penguins general manager Ron Hextall had won the offseason.

That reaction was not only built over several weeks or months, but it was also multi-pronged.

Sure, there was logic to breaking up the band. The three are in their mid-30s. The Penguins have won just one playoff series since the three stars collected their third Stanley Cup together in 2017. It was going to be difficult to re-sign Malkin and Letang and still assemble a potentially contending team under a fairly stagnant salary cap. It was folly to foist emotion over business sense.

And that’s not to mention a faction that did not trust Malkin in particular to play at a level close enough to his dominant prime to be worth bringing back for multiple years.

Pittsburgh Penguins Emotion

The flip side initially seemed flimsier. Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to see the three of them finish their careers together with the Penguins, see if maybe they could win a couple more playoff rounds? After the three of them have played 16 years together, change would be icky.

But you know what? That’s not so flimsy upon further thought.

Breaking up the core could have easily backfired. Take it from someone who, before the pandemic, had spent as much time as just about any reporter in the Penguins locker room: Those three are the heart and personality of the team, and they personify the idea that the sum can be better than its parts, even though those parts are pretty damned good.

That’s not trite; it’s the truth. At least, it’s the truth on a team that has Crosby as its captain and compass.

Crosby is not a squeaky wheel, but he is a creature of habit. Keeping him happy and comfortable has tangible benefits, and he made it abundantly clear he was hopeful that Malkin and Letang would return. He already lost another core player and friend, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, several years ago.

There is also the business side of the re-signings.

Letang is a special talent, and it’s doubtful the Penguins could have replaced their top defenseman adequately through a trade or NHL free agency, particularly at that price. He’s also a workout freak who seems to defy Father Time.

Malkin seemed fine after major knee surgery last year, and while he might not be as fast or dominant as he once was, he is still arguably one of the very best second-line centers in the NHL, and, like Letang, probably could not have been reasonably replaced at his salary cap hit.

Sure, it’s possible Malkin’s skills will erode before his four-year deal is up. That might even seem more likely than Letang’s skills eroding in his six years. That initial thought eventually gave way to one more like, it’s still worth it.

As for those four straight opening-round playoff losses, having them repeatedly brought up as a reason to rebuild might have had the biggest influence on a transformed opinion on Malkin and Letang. Those flameouts were primarily the product of goaltending and injury situations – not excuses, but legitimate extenuating circumstances that do not speak to whether the Big Three are still good enough to lead the team to a longer playoff run.

Lastly, in the moments when a sports writer softens a bit to consider the fan perspective, came the acknowledgement that the team just would not seem like the Pittsburgh Penguins with Letang and/or Malkin playing somewhere else.

The rebuild will come eventually. For now, who knows what the three guys with a combined three Stanley Cups, one Calder Trophy, four Art Ross trophies, two Rocket Richard trophies, four Lester Pearson/Ted Lindsay awards, three Conn Smythe trophies and three Hart trophies might still have in the tank?

There is nothing wrong in finding out, with the three long-time stars and teammates getting a chance to each finish their career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It should be an interesting ride. Which is the crux of one person’s evolved opinion: Isn’t that the type of story line that makes sports worth following?

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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
22 days ago

Thanks Shelly. I know I will find myself in the minority in agreeing with you, but so be it.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
22 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

Commenters around here are ridiculously negative. Everyone has an opinion. Let them have it and the Penguins will have another successful 100+ point season. Fact is that the team is better with the upgrades on defense. Injuries cannot be controlled but this team when healthy has a chance for the cup. Every team that makes the playoffs does. The team is too old? Maybe, but an older Detroit team won in 2008.

Phil
Phil
22 days ago

Count me in I’ve been saying it for years. We are lucky fans. To have these guys stay for 20 years just about. The haters on this page are not rational. Look how its working out in Calgary they cant keep their superstars. Everyone who thought let’s start a rebuild get new stars. Doesnt always work that way. But try to get these vilifying pens haters to understand that. We are fortunate and lucky to have witnessed the success of 3 cups since 09 these guys want to stay with the pens for the rest of their career. We owe… Read more »

Kurt
Kurt
21 days ago
Reply to  Phil

I agree with you, also most of the fan’s that have negative comments are only fantasy league fan’s evidently one of or all 3 must have had bad fantasy stats or something? But I agree that The Pittsburgh Penguins and their entire fan base should have embraced having the chance to watch these 3 core player’s fade off their NHL careers all with the same team, that’s a very rare thing to see not just in hockey but in all of sport’s considering the cap era? And in my opinion 1 day the 3 should be inducted to the NHL’s… Read more »

Chuck ursiny
Chuck ursiny
21 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

My only concern there is still no answer to players like Trouba! I’m not saying go out and sign Reeves, but I remember back in the day if somebody hit Mario, Artie was on them or Tocchet!

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
20 days ago
Reply to  Chuck ursiny

I think the answer is more team toughness. Look at all the teams that have won the cup recently. None of them have an enforcer type. Everyone on the team has to stand up for everyone else on the team when something goes down like the Trouba-bow(tm). Having one player who can pound another player out of existence only helps if they are in the lineup and actually playing with Sid or Geno.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
22 days ago

SHELLY! 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

William Maloni
William Maloni
22 days ago

Yay, you!!

Tony C
Tony C
22 days ago

I agree, Shelly.

Scott Maloni
Scott Maloni
21 days ago

It was the wrong move. Team will make the playoffs but is going to struggle to win a series and won’t win another cup as currently constructed. New motto: just make the playoffs baby!

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Scott Maloni

There are 16 teams that don’t make the playoffs. Follow one of them. i recommend the Coyotes, they need fans. I prefer this team to win as long as they can. 31 teams in the league do not win the cup. Have to get in the playoffs for a chance at it and this team, this CORE group has done that for 16 straight seasons! Shelly spelled it out for you. There was no better player than Letang available for defense. There was no better player at center available than Malkin. So your idea would be to sign lesser players… Read more »

Last edited 21 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Edgar
Edgar
21 days ago

The Penguins painted themselves in the corner by not trading Malkin and Letang 3 years ago for a legit prospect and a #1 pick each. So it was the right move to re-sign these guys after the much more wronger move a few years ago.

Pepper
Pepper
21 days ago

We are allowed to disagree with her, and to disagree with you as well. No need to get nasty, telling people to go cheer for another team. Hockey is about the Cup. It is about competing for the Cup. Winning the regular season is meaningless, IMO, and in the opinion of most players. None of these guys do all this work to win regular season games. Well, maybe Phil Kessel, but not many more. This team is not constructed to compete for a Cup, this year, and especially 3 years from now. The contracts doled out were bad contracts that… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

So, who are the 2c and 1d that you would sign for 6.1 mil or less? Or are you in the rebuild camp? Rebuilding teams always win the cup.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
20 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

Not being nasty. If someone doesn’t like their team making the playoffs, try watching a team that doesn’t and see how enjoyable that is. And you are wrong. Any team that gets in the playoffs has a 1/16 chance of winning the cup.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
21 days ago
Reply to  Scott Maloni

As you’ve found out, you’re not allowed to talk like that here. 🙂

I didn’t think Malkin should be re-signed but felt Letang could get 3×9 to end it when Sid’s contract was up. But, if Sid wants Letang and Geno around longer (at least those three years), that’s good enough for me.

I don’t like the KK signing, at all, and would’ve gone the additional 800K for NN.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Oh, its allowed, but there are always people out there who will disagree, no matter what the opinion is. Sorry if everyone doesn’t have the same opinion.

Paul
Paul
21 days ago
Reply to  Scott Maloni

So what you’re sayin’ is, the Pittsburgh hockey team is the Pittsburgh football team in drag.

Katherine
Katherine
21 days ago

Finally….someone states the reason for the early playoff exits was goaltending and injuries, not the performance of these three studs..

Charmaine
Charmaine
21 days ago

Thank you, Shelly for the great read

Wasnt
21 days ago

Great read BUT…….if the Pens don’t get someone who can get physical in the brutal first round of the Metro it’ll be another 100 point season making the playoffs and a shi!!load of frustration….How soon we forget what the Rangers did to us

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Wasnt

I wanted them to get Deslauriers, but he went to Philly…of course.

Carl Joseph
Carl Joseph
21 days ago

I don’t care if they win another cup with this group. I am happy to get to see them play together for a few more years! That’s enough for me.

Bob
Bob
21 days ago

Is it worth it to have a player like Malkin who hasn’t played a full season in 3 years and missed half those years with all his injuries?

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Bob

So we should trade Crosby too? He has missed a lot of time as well.

James
James
21 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Yes it is.

Lars Nelson
Lars Nelson
21 days ago

I agree completely Shelly. I have loved every minute of their playoff runs: the highs and the lows. People are not looking at the team as a whole. At the end of this season, we may have to make a few moves and sign a few veterans to fill in the lower lines. We have the goaltending and 2 great lines, and some good pieces on the lower lines. Winning the cup is about staying healthy. If this team can stay healthy, then it can win. All the top guys on this team are not the problem. The trick is… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Lars Nelson

BOOM

Pete
Pete
21 days ago

Zucker was -2. Carter -8. Malkin -10.
You can get a -10 center for a lot less than 6.1
This number must change if it is to be considered a good signing.
Maybe he plays 50 games.
Maybe he plays some D.
We shall see.

Pepper
Pepper
21 days ago
Reply to  Pete

100%.

Kurt
Kurt
21 days ago

Let’s go Penguins. In Hexy we trust. I love how Hextall is putting this what seamed broken team from all of the not so good moves Rutherford made which were quite a few? It must be nice to bail on a team because he used every single prospects that had any trade value including quite a few 1st rd draft picks . He had nothing left to work with and in my opinion who couldn’t do that with as much as a ball point pen to paper? Considering how Rutherford used every possible asset in the penguins entire organization and… Read more »

Pepper
Pepper
21 days ago
Reply to  Kurt

The Pens have 2 Cups to their name, largely because of Rutherford. Let’s see where Hextall is at the end of his tenure before crowning him the “savior” of a team that recently won back-to-back Cups and has made the playoffs every year since.

Alan Smith
21 days ago

Sitting around waiting for the 22-23 season to begin! Pens have a star studded team to chase the Cup with! Top offensive team in the NHL and the best for your money team to watch game after game! Love the pursuit defense and the exceptional speed they play with! Let’s hope a few trades and healthy goalies get us to the finals! Go Pens!

Pete
Pete
21 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Are you high?
Top offensive team?
Ever heard of the oilers? Avalanche? Lightning?

ric jefferies
ric jefferies
21 days ago

bla bla bla (yawn). oh right, and blame the goalies. Nope, not buying it!…

Knobman
Knobman
21 days ago

Shelly, here’s my opinion piece, you are wrong.

Paul
Paul
21 days ago

This franchise is irrelevant and has been for a while now. @TruthHurts

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul

😭

BocaMarine
BocaMarine
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul

As are you.

joe Cursi
joe Cursi
20 days ago

More SHELLY! More SHELLY!

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