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Kingerski: Why Do the Penguins Even Bother?



Alex Lyon, Sidney Crosby

Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is showing a clear and large difference between the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences and everyone else. Not since 1987 has there been an opening round without a 2-2 series, and had the Dallas Stars not beaten the Vegas Golden Knights Monday night, 2024 would have been the next.

A trio of teams, including the stout Winnipeg Jets and talented Toronto Maple Leafs, face elimination in Game 5 Tuesday.

So, why do the Pittsburgh Penguins even bother trying to remain competitive or regain a playoff spot? They won’t win the Stanley Cup anytime soon, they surely can’t beat the Colorado Avalanche or Florida Panthers, and their core is going to be 37 and older next season.

Just pack it in, send everyone over 25 home or to the corners of the hockey world, fire the coach, trade everyone possible for prospects, and just get younger.


Rebuilding Ain’t Easy

Yeah, no. Being competitive is the entire point of the game, and it’s far more complicated than deleting the team and starting over.

First, teams can’t simply “get younger.” As much as that assertion is said, it doesn’t happen easily or without years of pain. Contracts are guaranteed, and there aren’t scores of boneheaded GMs who are just dying to take on veteran mistakes.

Youth is its own valuable commodity in a game that is increasingly faster.

More importantly, 31 teams don’t win the Stanley Cup each year. Some teams have not won the Cup in nearly 50 years, and for others, ahem, Toronto, it’s been longer.

Perhaps six or so teams have a chance to win the Stanley Cup each season. So why bother unless the team is a favorite or building upward toward being a contender?

Let’s untangle this mangled and oft-repeated demand. Common sense would posit that if the process were as simple as losing for a few years, accumulating top draft picks, and then contending, every team would do it every 10-15 years.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

However, as Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas noted a couple of months ago, more often, teams “wander in the abyss.”

A team can get to the bottom whether it tries or not. It makes sense to keep trying because there are no guarantees that a team will get off the floor.

Financial Considerations

NHL teams can rake in over $2 million per home playoff game. With in-house broadcast rights and streaming services, like the Penguins (and Pittsburgh Pirates) launched on Monday, that figure can be higher with residual revenues.

Maybe 50 years ago, professional sports owners bought teams as a hobby, but with billion-dollar price tags, they’re no longer a fun side project or vanity purchase.

Money. Winning generates money, even if it is not the Stanley Cup.

Spending a billion dollars has a funny way of focusing owners on revenues and profits.

Sidney Crosby

The Penguins’ disappointment this season might have become convoluted by the final charge that nearly put them in the playoffs.

Yet winger Bryan Rust admitted that the sprint to the finish added a little bitterness because the Penguins proved they could beat anyone.

They should have beaten the Colorado Avalanche (but coughed up a 4-0 lead). They otherwise beat playoff teams such as the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They took Toronto to overtime in Toronto.

The team that finally found itself in the final weeks of the season would have been a dangerous playoff team. Perhaps they wouldn’t have done much against the juggernaut in Florida or the patiently structured team in Boston. However, they gave the Rangers more than enough in multiple meetings during the season and beat Carolina a couple of times.

2024-25 is probably their last chance before the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Ottawa Senators raise the bar for playoff entry.

Success is contagious, and a few of the veteran players who are currently heading the NHL trade rumors might look much better to other teams.

One year from now, prospects like Joel Blomqvist, Owen Pickering, Tristan Broz, and Brayden Yager will be much closer. Blomqvist might already be here.

Not every prospect will hit, and only Blomqvist and Yager project as potential impact players.

The team doesn’t currently have a 2024 first-round pick, but perhaps Dubas can pick up more prospects as he did in the Jake Guentzel trade.

A little luck both on the ice next season and with personnel moves this summer, combined with the indomitable Sidney Crosby, could get the Penguins into the dance. From there, the Penguins will have a puncher’s chance with the right matchup(s).

It’s money. It’s a chance. And the alternatives don’t really exist except in vague platitudes.

And that’s why the Penguins will keep trying to be competitive.