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Molinari: Building Up Penguins’ Infrastructure is Wise Investment

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NHL trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins have made some high-profile personnel moves this summer.

The ones they announced Monday — when Greg Pateryn and Garrett Peters were hired as scouts and Chris Butler joined the player-development staff — don’t qualify.

Not when compared to re-signing the likes of Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell, or trading for Jeff Petry and Ty Smith.

But that doesn’t mean they were insignificant.

Fact is, if adding those three is a reflection of Ron Hextall’s approach to building up the organization’s infrastructure — and Fenway Sports Group’s willingness to underwrite that plan — it should bode well for the future of the franchise.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, of course, currently are perched a bit above the NHL’s salary-cap ceiling of $82.5 million for the 2022-23 season. That’s not unusual; more than half of the league’s 32 teams have payrolls that either exceed the ceiling or are flirting with it.

The ceiling is the biggest reason for the parity that has predominated in the NHL since it was introduced after the labor dispute that wiped out the 2004-05 season — only two clubs have won consecutive Stanley Cups since then — and, predictably enough, most of the teams projected to make a serious run at the championship in 2023 are in the group that’s snug to the cap’s upper limit.

Some fans of teams that are successful on the ice and at the box office might complain that the amount their club can put toward players is capped, but the hard truth is that in the years before the cap came along, a handful of well-heeled teams would spend lavishly in an effort to buy titles.

Some, most notably the Detroit Red Wings, were quite successful at it. Others, such as the New York Rangers, didn’t get much more to show for it than a team photo with a lot of big-name talent in it.

In today’s game, most franchises have the ability, if not the inclination, to spend near the ceiling, perhaps because the NHL now actually vets prospective owners to assure they have the financial resources needed to have a shot at being competitive.

And while teams are limited in how much money they can invest in players during a particular season, there are no such constraints on other spending.

That is how teams that have money — and a well-conceived plan for using it — can get an edge on at least some of their competitors.

Bottom line: Corporate accountants permitting, clubs can plow as much money as they want into top-shelf medical and training facilities, and personnel to identify and cultivate talented players.

That doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Penguins, or any other team, should spend recklessly and simply collect qualified medical professionals, player-development personnel and scouts as if they were bobbleheads; it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, and the law of diminishing returns has not been repealed.

Bring too many voices into a discussion about the merits of drafting or trading for a particular player, for example, and you’re as likely to end up with confusion born of sonic clutter as a well-rounded assessment of the individual in question.

But having enough scouts to fully evaluate potential prospects in every proven feeder league in North America and Europe, as well as coaches and conditioning experts who can maximize the talents of the players who are brought into the organization, is imperative for any team intent on competing at a high level, year-in and year-out.

So no, first-rate facilities and behind-the-scenes people like scouts and player-development personnel don’t often make headlines.

But they can make a difference.

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Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago

Exactly. This is what makes MLB so boring. NY and LA buy all the top talent and only 5 teams have any chance of a Championship.
The NHL salary cap keeping things even is a great thing.