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Dan vs. Dave: Can These Penguins Really Win a Cup?

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Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins

Can these Pittsburgh Penguins really win another Stanley Cup?

The question is asked and answered, but with very different views on the PHN staff. Dan vs. Dave. The student and the master. The most important question the Penguins must answer is debated by Dave Molinari and Dan Kingerski.

Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and RIckard Rakell will be free agents in July. Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen will be RFAs in July. Penguins GM Ron Hextall has plenty of decisions that will shape the future and course of the Penguins.

And the primary question looms: Can they win a Cup or should they acknowledge their time is over and begin again?

Dave’s Opening Statement:

OK, let’s get this straight: A team that has lost five consecutive series — that hasn’t made it to the second round since 2018 — and has an aging core and major salary-cap limitations can somehow morph into a serious Stanley Cup threat by next spring? It’s hard to see how.

The best-case scenario for many Penguins fans seems to be that they’d find a way to retain their three most prominent unrestricted free agents — Malkin, Letang, and Rakell. That seems unlikely, but let’s say it works out and Ron Hextall manages to do it with the same cap space those three took up in 2021-22 ($20,357,501).

That, per CapFriendly.com, would leave the Penguins with $2,850,657 of cap space to re-sign — or replace — Kapanen, Heinen, Evan Rodrigues, Brian Boyle, Casey DeSmith and Nathan Beaulieu.

Since that wouldn’t be possible even if all agreed to work for the league minimum, Hextall obviously is going to have to cut the payroll somewhere. And while there is sentiment — outside the organization, anyway — to add cap space by trading Jason Zucker or John Marino or Marcus Pettersson, parting with one of them would create an opening on the second line or No. 2 defense pairing.

Given the Penguins’ limited pool of NHL-caliber prospects in Wilkes-Barre, there’s no guarantee an adequate replacement for any of them will come from the farm team. And if capable, let alone better, replacements are found elsewhere, changes are they will command similar salaries.

So, the Penguins — with a lineup that, at best, is roughly equal to the 2021-22 edition and several key guys a year deeper into their mid-30s — are suddenly going to be capable of winning four series? Uh, no.

Dan’s Opening:

As long as the Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby and a top-line with the dynamism of Guentzel-Crosby-Rust, they have a championship foundation.

Add All-Star goalie Tristan Jarry, who showed his mettle by playing Game 7 on a not-yet-healed broken foot, with role players such as Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn, and the Penguins have real cornerstones. Only Crosby is north of 30-years-old.

Yep, Jarry stunk in the 2021 series against the New York Islanders, but he played a solid game trying to rescue the lifeless Penguins in the 2020 bubble against Montreal and was solid in Game 7, the most pressure-packed game of his career. He’ll be just fine in future postseasons.

With a little bit of luck, they would have been playing the Carolina Hurricanes in Round Two, and it certainly appears the Penguins could have won that series, too.

How far away are they, really? After 2009, they didn’t win many series, either. Did anyone see 2016 coming (I believe I was the first when I pointed that direction on Jan. 1, 2016, but not before)?

What happens with the rest of the lineup is in the hands of Hextall, whose decisions have thus far been precise. Openings in the middle-six and atop the Penguins’ blue line, at a time when other teams are sacrificing talent to meet the salary cap, provide real opportunity. The Penguins could easily go from “should haves” to contenders, again.

Put the right pieces around the Penguins’ foundation. With Crosby, they will always have a puncher’s chance. With a few more shrewd moves, it’s more possible than you think.

Dave’s Rebuttal

The simple truth is, the Penguins mortgaged their future to try to maximize their chances of winning a Cup for a lot of years, and have three banners to show for it.

There’s no reason to regret, or even second-guess, the decisions Ray Shero, Jim Rutherford and Hextall made to swap early-round draft choices and/or prospects for short-term roster upgrades, and the Penguins’ run of 16 consecutive playoff appearances is a remarkable feat in the salary-cap era, but it’s time for ownership and management to look beyond just the season ahead.

That doesn’t mean it is necessary to gut the roster or embark on a full-blown rebuild, but the Penguins’ decision-makers have to acknowledge that this group’s long run as a viable contender ended a few years ago, and begin making personnel moves that could give the franchise a future as promising as much of the past decade and a half have been.

Dan’s Rebuttal

No, those Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t won a series since 2018. They were thumped by a rigid systematic team in 2019, while internal “debates” with the coaching staff returned their team identity to the petulant Penguins. That problem was fixed.

2020? The bubble was–for some teams–a throwaway. Nothing to learn other than some players never thought it would happen and didn’t like being there.

2021 and 2022 can be laid on goaltending. Maybe special teams. And just bad luck. It happens. The 2021 New York Islanders went to Game 7 of the ECF. The 2022 New York Rangers lead the ECF 2-0. The Penguins didn’t exactly lose to teams that got swept out in the next round.

What if Louis Domingue doesn’t pop a long shot into his own net in Game 6? What if Marcus Pettersson’s helmet isn’t ripped off and the Penguins are forced to scramble in the defensive zone in Game 7? One or two moments and we’re having a much different conversation. That’s how narrow the margin between winning and losing.

That also means a couple of breaks–and they all went the Penguins’ way in 2016 and 2017–put the Penguins back in the conversation. Dave is correct, the Pittsburgh Penguins do not have much help coming from the WBS Penguins, and in my view, that only makes the present even more important.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage against the dying of the light.

CLOSING ARGUMENT

Dave: The Penguins have been a good team — usually, a very good team — for an awfully long time, and that is extremely impressive in the salary-cap era. But being a very good team is not the same as being a championship-caliber one.

The Penguins, as constituted in recent seasons, were capable of winning a best-of-seven from any — yes, any — opponent. It just wasn’t realistic to expect them to do it four times. If, as ownership and the front office insist, their objective is not simply to qualify for the playoffs but to win a Cup, it’s time to start making the hard decisions that will allow them to be a true contender in the not-too-distant future.

Dan: Hello, Detroit, Chicago, and LA. Once the rebuild begins, there is absolutely no guarantee the next Malkin or Letang is on deck. Teams held on too long and have suffered through protracted rebuilds. The Penguins have a unique situation and opportunity that those others did not have–they have the chance to retool around Crosby. Or, they can sign their aging core players to contracts that the team chooses, instead of albatross contracts signed long ago (see also, Chicago).

A rebuild is like a marathon. It sounds like fun until you’re halfway through it and there’s no end in sight. Hold on to the fleeting chance, because once it is gone, it could be a long, long time before it comes back around.

What say you, PHN readers, and our jury? Comment below.

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charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
2 months ago

Great read. Love the “crossfire” and I hate the thoughts of Geno and Letang not being Penguins next season, but it’s obvious something new/someone new must be brought in

Joe Crawford
Joe Crawford
2 months ago

Good points on both sides but I’m with Dan on this. The Pens could certainly be playing in the ECF right now and quite possibly on their way to the final.I think you have to look at each year’s playoffs individually as opposed to 5 disappointments. Aside from having a good team yon need some luck and good health which brings me to Geno. I just don’t think you can count on him to stay healthy for a long run anymore. I absolutely believe in Tanger though and bringing him back is the first step.I’d also like to see them… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Crawford

Joe I pretty much agree with everything you said.

RJ
RJ
2 months ago

I think the Pens were one dirty hit away from playing the Avs THIS year. They pretty much had the NYR series won when 87 went out. Then they would have had Jarry back for round 2. I think the main impediment going forward is the cap, not the current roster. The numbers don’t support keeping who they want unless there are some team friendly deals.

Bob
Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  RJ

I agree 100%

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
2 months ago

Fantastic to have divergent views with thoughtful rebuttals. If only… I love what Letang and Malkin have done and I think they have been paid fairly in the past. However, I much as I appreciate Letang’s skill set, he is not going to accept a value contract. The Pens cannot afford that on either end. Same for Geno, but it sounds like he is more amenable to value numbers. If that is the case, then great. Even if the goal is to win now, they have to be pay for the now, not for three years ago. This goes for… Read more »

Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Donnelly

Definitely not the Preds. They have won one playoff series since they lost the finals to the Pens and are not a serious threat to win a cup anytime soon.

Jesse
Jesse
2 months ago
Reply to  Katz is Dumb

Maybe Boston would be a better example?

Gary Donnor
Gary Donnor
2 months ago

I am definitely Team Dave. We have been in “Win Now” mode for 5 years…and nothing to show for it. It is time to chart a new course. “Being a very good team is not the same as being a championship-caliber one.”

Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
2 months ago
Reply to  Gary Donnor

What did they have to show for the seasons between cups in 09 and 16??

Jackmccrory
Jackmccrory
2 months ago

Malkin favored that knee most of the season after he came back and was clearly not 100% and probably will never be 100%. He lost speed and circles rather than cutting on that side. He’s a gamble knowing he will probably miss multiple games again. Letang is frustrating but basically healthy compared to Malkin.

Bob
Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

Malkin can be replaced or at least someone who can play a full season or almost unlike Malkin has the last 3 years playing only a little over half of the 3.

DaGama
DaGama
2 months ago

I’ve been working through a similar point/counter-point for a while. Like don’t trap ourselves in cap hell when there’s a chance to begin an escape, versus it’s great fun watching the stars rack up regular season wins and it’s not our fault we’ve had some bad post season luck. But if forced to decide today, I’d try using funds saved from expiring contracts to start bringing in fresh faces. That puts pressure on management to identify and obtain the right players who will excel in Sully’s system. All of that while still getting fans to fill the house. Simplicity itself!

Last edited 2 months ago by DaGama
Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
2 months ago

There should be no half measures. Either they rebuild(including trade crosby), or they go for win now which means sign their best players and dump the ones that arent contributing. Anything in between and it will be the same result or worse. It is clear what the teams issues are and what needs to be addressed. Hextall will have to be very active, but it can be done. My vote is try to keep it going! If not, trade sid and rebuild. I would rather be competitive and make the playoffs where anything can happen(hello rangers). Losing in the first… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Robert Shoemaker
Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
2 months ago

Great column! PHN crossfire.

charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
2 months ago

yes……and i hope we see more of this….excellent by Dan and Dave !

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
2 months ago

They need to shed salary on and restructure the defense. If they can do that successfully they can rebuild on the fly and remain highly competitive.

David Heyl
David Heyl
2 months ago

Does anyone really believe after watching Avs, Oilers, Rangers & even the Bolts the Pens have the speed, brawn to compete? With age comes injuries & this group with their playoff run & successful Cups have played more than 16 seasons. They are truly warriors & the pride of Pittsburgh however time to move on.

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  David Heyl

No one is saying stand pat. There will be changes. The question is how extensive and at what positions.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
2 months ago
Reply to  David Heyl

The argument on this site comes down to whether fans want 71 and 58 to be re-signed. What the team does starts with what they do with those two. Some want those two re-signed. Others want to move on. It’ll be an interesting summer.

(“Uh, no.” pretty much sums it up IMO.)

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Well…if they can find suitable younger,less expensive replacements for Malkin and Letang…GO FOR IT!!! Good luck with that, i don’t see it happening. Otherwise we are definitely looking at a team that will have no #2 center or #1 defenseman. They will basically be a one line team with an all star goalie and a defense of 3 3rd pairs on any other team. Not going to make the playoffs with that. Letting the big guys go means time to rebuild, for sure. If they keep Malkin and Letang, they at least can make the playoffs. I am good with… Read more »

Bob
Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  David Heyl

Pens took care of Tampa pretty handily in the regular season.
Maybe Pens should’ve looked at the films of that first game when they played defense first before offense and we’re all over the Bolts who couldn’t do much of anything.

gsvarano
gsvarano
2 months ago

Stick a fork in them. They are done.
Move on from Big Gene. Enough is enough of the East-west hockey that Sully detests.

Last edited 2 months ago by gsvarano
Jeremy Strickler
Jeremy Strickler
2 months ago

There’s $10 million more rolling off next year with Zucker and Dumo. That means there’s $25 million + per year to spend on high level players. The retool can take 2 years. It doesn’t have to be Geno and Letang. It could be Letang and T J Miller. Or another star who becomes disenchanted with his team. Cap space is an asset.

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

I see JT Miller popping up in conversation. I don’t think Vancouver will trade their leading scorer. If they do, the Penguins don’t have the pieces to steal him.

Steve
Steve
2 months ago

I think the Pens missed their opportunity 3 years ago when Geno and Letang would have brought back a good haul. This is the absolute worst situation to be in. When you can lose these guys for nothing. Honestly, the team hasn’t been close for years. And the jury is still out on Jarry. And we continually over pay guys who aren’t worth it to play ” a role”. It’s absurd. Going to take years to fix Rutherford’s mistakes. He was a horrible GM who got lucky. But, I suppose that’s a debate for a different time. This team is… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Edgar
Chris R
Chris R
2 months ago

No, the Pens can’t win. Not because they’re not good enough, but because of the league enabling dirty play. As long as you can take out key players without incurring meaningful penalties, the Pens will be targeted. The only reason the Rangers have made it this far is because they keep taking out their opponents. It’s a travesty that Trouba hasn’t been suspended, particularly after the hit on Crosby. Maybe the NHL isn’t fixed in the usual sense of the meaning, but the ref calls and the DPS decisions actively determine the outcome of games as well as guide future… Read more »

Steve
Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris R

No one else seems to think this way except this fan base. Unfortunately.

Rob
Rob
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

It is true, but no use whining about it. Its always been that way so that will never change

Chris R
Chris R
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Don’t know about that; change is often effected when enough people speak up. If something’s swept under the rug it can’t be addressed. And I’d much rather DPS change happens preemptively rather than in response to a snapped spinal cord or an unrecoverable coma.

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[…]  Dan vs. Dave: Can These Penguins Really Win a Cup? […]

Bob
Bob
2 months ago

It’s sad how the referees can change an outcome of a game with blown calls!

Ujn Hunter
2 months ago

Team Dan here. I don’t see how losing to the eventual SC Champs in 2018. Jake & Sid being shutdown in 2019 (remember those Trade Jake takes?) a pointless “Play In Series” in a bubble in 2020 and poor Goaltending & Bad Luck in 2021 & 2022 (to the eventual ECF teams) means that they aren’t serious contenders… if they didn’t get the short end of the stick on injuries/bad bounces the 2021 & 2022 teams look like they both could have won the cup to me. You want to trade “making the Playoffs” for bottom of the barrel? Just… Read more »

Keith T.
Keith T.
2 months ago

Not a fan of the “what if” scenarios. It is what it is….. helmets torn off, dirty hits, bad goals, etc. etc. etc. A team is what a team is and fact is, they lost each and every series since 2018. A “make-over” is long overdue and there is a need for change and new personnel. Notice that the Pens are always the ones who loose these what-if scenarios!! As difficult as it may seem, loyalty to players is somewhat of a fantasy in the age of Free Agency. So we enter a new era and rebuilding/re-tooling and it is… Read more »

ric jefferies
ric jefferies
2 months ago

Guess I’m crazy I just want to see good hockey, good fundementals played by pens. Yes, I like winning but not at the cost of sloppy play then it becomes luck. Giving enormous pay checks to play a GAME and then give excuses by COACHING when they lose is playing the game of IF. Put the best team on the ice that money can buy with the best coaching and drop the puck and see what happens.

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[…] Is the Stanley Cup window still open for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Our friends at Pittsburgh Hockey Now take a look at if these Penguins can still win a title. (PHN) […]

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