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PHN Blog: Penguins Fans Struggling with the Worst, Legacies at Stake

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NHL return, Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jared McCann

Pittsburgh Hockey Now opened the mailbag on Monday. Perhaps it was the dreary, rainy day or a case of the Mondays, but the DM’d questions, and the public questions had one theme. The future of the Penguins, with a subset of doubts, questions, and support for the futures of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and the Pittsburgh Penguins playoff streak.

Accepting the reality that salary caps were meant to force cyclical struggles is hard. Hindsight points the way for exits already gone by to avoid the coming ride on the struggle bus.

Spending assets to keep winning and the post-fallout wisdom is like that extra shot of tequila. In the moment, it tastes like gold, and the party will never end. In the morning, you wonder why your underwear is in the tree, and your head feels like your friends used Wiffle bats as you were the pinata (because it was hilarious in the moment).

Unrelated note, I will forever miss my college days.

Sure, it’s easy to say those shots of tequila were a bad idea when you have crackers and ginger ale for lunch, but the chance to keep winning is more intoxicating than anything. Worry about it later!

Now is later.

The winning hangover is never easy. That’s the simple answer. The other answers are the tougher ones to deal with. Everyone is smarter; perfection of hindsight only makes matters worse. Former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made a few decisions that you can second-guess now.

*Trading Marc-Andre Fleury instead of Matt Murray, who was worth a mint on the NHL trade market.

*Not trading Evgeni Malkin when Florida was in buy-now mode in 2019.

*Trading first-round picks for David Perron, Derrick Brassard, and Jason Zucker.

*Prematurely dishing long-term contracts to young defensemen Marcus Pettersson and John Marino.

The Penguins also splashed first-rounders on the Toronto Maple Leafs to acquire Phil Kessel (2016) and again for Kasperi Kapanen (2020). Those seemingly worked out, but two out of five trades for prized picks isn’t a good average.

We could go on, but the point is–the chance to win now trumps losing later for most. What seems reasonable at the moment comes with a heavy cost later. Remember the criticism the Pittsburgh Steelers faced when they didn’t go all-out in free agency despite having a Super Bowl-caliber team under Bill Cowher? The Pittsburgh Pirates’ failure to take those shots of tequila and go for it permanently damaged a lot of faith and trust in the organization after 98 wins in 2015.

Check, Please

Each situation is different, but the Pittsburgh Penguins soothed the savage beast of fandom by indeed shouting, “Shots!”

Eventually, the bill comes due.

The hangover hits.

It always hurts.

No sports team in the cap era, except for the New England Patriots, has been able to sustain consistent winning without rebuilding. And without Tom Brady, perhaps their time is up, too.

Not even the 1970s Steelers were exempt from the immutable laws of sports. Terry Bradshaw didn’t come back to Pittsburgh for decades because of his soured relationship with the organization and fans. Franco Harris had the ill-fated stint with the Seattle Seahawks, though both sides put bygones behind them. Others stayed well past their primes, and the super Steelers were the mediocre Steelers in the 1980s.

Evgeni Malkin, especially, seems to be teetering on the verge of a dubious ending, too. If he stays, fans may be less than kind. If he goes, fans will be less than kind…

Malkin seems to be taking the lionshare of the angst and anger. Letang is a solid second place on that list.

It’s all possible. But not likely.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are odds-on favorites to make the playoffs this season, according to Vegas bookmakers. But they’re not overwhelming betting favorites. They have about the same odds as the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers–two teams that missed the playoffs last season.

But what if they don’t? How will the former conquering heroes be treated by the fanbase? The guess here is with a broom and a kick.

Legacies will be redefined by emotion and disappointment.

The Penguins probably will miss the playoffs sooner than later. Perhaps GM Ron Hextall has an ace up his sleeve. A shrewd move or three and Sidney Crosby playing until he’s 50 could keep the Penguins streak going longer than we expect. Perhaps prospect wizard, Penguins AGM Chris Pryor and the new Hextall team hit home runs with a few prospects in the next 12 months, too.

I don’t know how this column came to be such an analogous reference to alcohol, but it seems to fit. Usually, there are only two ways out–the hair of the dog or deal with the pain now.

You’re right to fear the pain. Perhaps Hextall can avoid it to some degree, or perhaps it’s a wicked rebuild-type pain. But the upside, for every person who laments the availability of affordable tickets, they should be easier to get if it all goes south.

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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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Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 month ago

Once again Dan a great article. I enjoyed JR when he was making all those moves. However the bill has come due. The only way I think we could get better quicker would be to trade Malkin and Letang ASAP! This is the last chance to get anything for them. There are a few gritty muscle guys out there on the cheap to help us this year in the Metro. Unless some things happen soon I say look out Grandma we are going down in the fast lane!

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

The problem with trading star players is that you never get anything good in return. It only makes your team worse and the other team better. Some examples are the Kessel trade(who did the pens send to toronto?), Ekman-larsson got arizona some fourth liners and some picks, and my final example is do you remember how much Beech, Sivek and Lupaschuk helped the pens when they traded Jagr? The only reason to trade Malkin and Letang is to full on rebuild. If they do that, they might as well trade Crosby too and throw in the towel. Another example is… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Also, vegas trading Fleury for an echl player. That was Lunacy but definitely an example of getting nothing. Especially for the reigning vezina winner

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

More like Dan struggling with the worst… of writers block. Tell us again how you think the team is done.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

DAN I THINK YOUR STORIES ARE GREAT!

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dan,I like all your articles too, but how about something less gloom and doom? Maybe explain how a full on rebuild isn’t where this team is at right now after winning the toughest division last season?

Steve
Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

They have such an advantage in shootouts and Ot that it’s always a very hollow victory.

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Maybe a story of two different paths. What the team might look like if Malkin is resigned for another 3 years or so. And an alternate timeline where the Pens let Malkin walk after this year and what they could do with 9.5-million.
Just watched the Polumulu HOF speech. Very emotional. But at the end of the day the Steelers made that tough choice and cut him loose.

C Daniel
C Daniel
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Since you ask! As I’m new since the glory days I’d be interested to hear which games I should watch from the 3 recent cup runs that showed the team at its best (especially Malkin because yes I am a fan). Also interested in the cap era cycle, and how the Kings, Blackhawks, Bruins, Caps have experienced it in comparison as other recent-ish winners.

Greg Chemerys
Greg Chemerys
1 month ago

Good article Dan. I agree it’s time to pay the bill, so PAY IT! Make trades, do what it takes to shorten the down time. This has been a terrible offseason, I would have felt better if they brought in some toughness and size. As is, our top players are going to get abused and they aren’t young anymore, recovery will take longer. The odds are that if they make the playoffs it’ll end in the first round again.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Chemerys

I think the answer to the question of whether or not our stars retire as Penguins or move on and start a rebuild should be answered by those stars. Sit Sid and Geno down, ask them what they want to happen, do that. They’ve earned it.

David
David
1 month ago

The Pens won the SC two years in a row. That was worth the next few years of mediocrity. The alternative was more years like 2012-13.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  David

CORRECT SIR

Michael Orslene
Michael Orslene
1 month ago

Dark days ahead, but It will all have been worth it. What a ride it has been.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

You are not in a spot to be envied Dan. There just is no real Penguin news. When that comes on the heels of a front office that used to seemingly have something new 3 or 4 days a week it feels worse. . . . and it is compounded by the fact that all around the local team the rest of the league seems to be in a frenzy to re-make what they look like. At the end of the day I don’t really care about the latest Eichel drama, or the looming shadow of Tom Wilson or the… Read more »

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Jesus, is it that depressing up there? Come on I thought we all agreed we were the better team against the Islanders, except for the goalie. Now we are suddenly doomed. Way too much knee jerk reactions on these sites. Let’s go back 12 months and talk about the Ceci signing. Everyone wanted Rutherford’s head for such a bone headed move. Now, well he’s in the Norris discussion isn’t he? We have a much different GM now and we need to adjust that we are not going to be told about potential deals before they are made. Call me when… Read more »

Katz
Katz
1 month ago

For a long time I was an outlier and viewed as a Troll or negative for simply opining the reality I was witnessing. But I could care less, wanted to be wrong but unfortunately was correct. 1) Sullivan peaked with the second Cup, and will forever be among the best in Penguin history , just below Bob Johnson snd Scotty Bowman . 2) Sullivan’s stubbornness in doing what Einstein defines as insanity, that is doing over and over the same thing and expecting a different result. The league changed, caught up, and Sullivan remains in 2016 3) The writing was… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Katz

Malkin has a no trade clause, which he earned and will not be going anywhere unless he want’s to. Forget about it. Move on

Katz
Katz
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Yes in regard to Malkin I believe it’s too late and ownership made a mistake. However they do not need to resign him unless he accepts a significant discount. I prefer they do not resign. But I’m not ownership or management . Only a guy with an IPhone.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Katz

3 stanley cups is not a mistake. Sid doesn’t win those without Geno and Tanger and vise versa.

Edgar
Edgar
1 month ago

The only thing that bothers me is the drawing out of the obvious. I was perfectly fine with accepting the team would eventually have to re-tool, or re-build. But, I thought they had a great opportunity to trade Malkin and Letang for picks. Yes, it almost always makes the team worse, but stock up on picks. I was ready to do that in 2019. Still ready!

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Edgar

I doubt that you were around for watching the penguins in the early 2000’s? If you are in a hurry to watch a rebuilding team, you should watch the sabres instead. Watching a team battle for the division lead all season long only to lose in the first or second round is still more enjoyable than watching a team “play” for high draft picks. Just my opinion, I’m apparently in the minority.

Last edited 1 month ago by Robert Shoemaker
Jeffrey S Knipple
Jeffrey S Knipple
1 month ago

It is just sad we live in a world with no appreciation or loyalty, especially in our professional sports world. No appreciation or loyalty by the teams, the players, or especially the fans. The fact that Malkin has chosen to stay with Pittsburgh to be sidekick and not seek first line money or popularity is admirable in today’s world. And to hear that often he has played through major injuries to try and help our team win playoff series, not to mention how he has carried the team during Crosby’s injuries and is a major reason we raised 3 cups,… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Yes PLEASE!

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