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Kingerski: Why the Penguins Can’t Blow it Up & Start Over

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Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL trade

Sure, let’s go through it step by step. I’ve been questioned on radio, our YouTube chats, and by readers in print on what seems to be a simple issue. If only the Pittsburgh Penguins organization would realize they can no longer win a Stanley Cup and that the best years of Evgeni Malkin are behind him, they could rebuild and get back to winning Stanley Cups.

Am I right?

I know many of you believe that to be true. The sooner the Penguins front office led by President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and general manager Ron Hextall dumps Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the sooner they begin the rebuild and the sooner the sixth Stanley Cup arrives.

But….No. No, no no no.

When people say the Penguins fanbase is spoiled, they don’t just mean a lineage of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Sidney Crosby, which is a lineage that rivals anything the Boston Celtics or New York Yankees ever put together. No, the lineage is only part of the equation.

The Penguins have also twice been able to build around all-time greats, with a good bit of luck.

Those of us old enough to remember will recall the first six years of Mario Lemieux; we witnessed only one playoff appearance. There was much good fortune and good timing involved in the Penguins’ acquisitions of Hall of Fame talents and borderline HOF players like Paul Coffey, Mark Recchi, Tom Barrasso, Kevin Stevens, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, and so on.

Coffey, Barrasso, Mullen, and Bryan Trottier priced themselves out of their original teams or simply wanted to go. And the Penguins were in the perfect position for each player.

Then the Penguins fleeced Minnesota for Murphy.

The stars aligned in extraordinary ways for then-GM Craig Patrick.

It all happened a second time from 2003-2006. The Penguins picked at the top or second overall, and the run magically coincided with a crop of all-time greats. Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Staal were the successive first-round picks. Fleury and Crosby were first overall. Malkin and Staal were second overall.

The odds of another run like that are astronomic.

Plenty of other teams have had a similar run of draft slots. Edmonton, Detroit, and Buffalo spring to mind. Edmonton snagged Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. How many great playoff runs have they had?

Poor Buffalo and Detroit. Jack Eichel has had enough in Buffalo. There are quiet worries that Dylan Larkin may get fed up if Detroit doesn’t start showing more progress, too.

Recently, New Jersey has also been dominating the top of the draft too. Let me know when Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are Stanley Cup contenders.

But the Penguins are special, right? The Penguins do things better than other organizations. They’ll be able to do it when everyone else struggles.

Burke’s old poke of the Penguins rebuild strategies, which he now jokingly owns, is apropos.

“What’s the Pittsburgh model? They got a lottery,” Burke once growled to reporters in 2012. “They won a goddamn lottery, and they got the best player in the game (Crosby). Is that available to me? Should we do that? Should we ask the league to do a lottery this year, and maybe we pick first? The Pittsburgh model, my ass.”

 

As Edmonton is proving, even with the best player in the game, and a damn good sidekick, winning isn’t easy.

And you want the Penguins to begin that process with a team capable of making the playoffs?

Now, if you still think the Penguins can simply rebuild, go back and re-read the last 490 words. And this is why the Pittsburgh Penguins cannot simply blow it up now and start over.

If you have the choice between a team which can win the division, and with a tinker or tweak and a bit of luck, make a playoff run — OR — go through the losing gamble of rebuilding, which would you choose?

If you choose the latter, re-read the first 490 words again. There are also significant financial implications too. Those playoff games bring profit to the organization, which loses money, or breaks even, otherwise.

How did others do it?

Now, here’s the good news: it is absolutely possible to rebuild and retool on the fly. How many superstars have the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New York Islanders traded?

Answer: ZERO.

Tampa Bay and New York built teams through steady and consistent drafting. Our new colleagues Kevin Allen and Bob Duff at Detroit Hockey Now did a brilliant piece on how Steve Yzerman built the Tampa Bay Lightning. Get this: Yzerman’s draft success was 54%. 

That number doesn’t just mean first-round picks. It’s ALL picks. Add a few solid trades and ta-da, a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has not drafted especially well but used a consistent team philosophy to construct a team designed for the playoffs. Jesper Kotkaniemi (2018, 3rd overall) and Cole Caufield (2019, 15th overall) are the only recent home-grown high picks on the current Montreal roster.

Only a handful of draft picks since 2013 are still on the Montreal roster (Caufield, Kotkaniemi, Alexander Romanov, Jake Evans, and Artturi Lehkonnen). Of the group, only the first two were first-round picks.

Of course, it helps to have 2005 fifth-overall pick Carey Price in goal. He’s pretty good, eh? 2007 second-round pick P.K. Subban brought top defenseman Shea Weber. Otherwise, the Canadiens are a hodgepodge of role players, small moves, and later picks.

It took a long time to build them to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final and rebuild them to the 2021 NHL Semifinal. Yet no Stanley Cups, either.

Maybe fans will convince Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to move the team to Kansas City finally so that Pittsburgh will get an expansion franchise and its own expansion draft?

And that’s why the Penguins’ best chance, and the best path is to continue forward. Taking steps back usually means exactly that, and there is little guarantee a team ever takes those steps forward.

Even with a “goddamn lottery.”

(Forgive me, Sister Katherine Mary).

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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
3 months ago

First off Crosby is welcome here as long as he produces. Keep Malkin and Letang for one more year but do not extend either one. They are getting slower and older each year. We need a Veteran Goalie. We have players to trade to get size and snarl like McCann and Rust and Petterson. The expansion remark was uncalled for. Would you rather Rasmus Ristolanan with the Pens or Flyers? If you can’t see after the last 4 years that we need a change then you are blind Dan./

SD Pens Fan
SD Pens Fan
3 months ago

So you are telling me if Malkin and Letang are willing to sign at a home town discount next offseason and play for $2 million a year to remain Penguins you would let them walk??

Geno LaCrosby
Geno LaCrosby
3 months ago
Reply to  SD Pens Fan

Let me ask you something dummy…Do yo honestly think either Geno or Tanger would ever play for 2mil. Each?? EXACTLY, so stop talking shit

SD Pens Fan
SD Pens Fan
3 months ago
Reply to  Geno LaCrosby

lol. Hey everyone, we have a keyboard tough guy over here.
Maybe not $2 million, but they both will be signing for significantly less than they make right now.

jackw
jackw
3 months ago

I guess you didn’t read the first 490 words. Or else you’re a died in the wool, spoiled rotten yinzer who lives in lala land, doesn’t appreciate in the least how difficult it is to build a winning team, or how extraordinary these players really are.

It’s not just that you’re not going to replace Malkin or Letang for the best players in the game, you’re not even going to replace them with someone as good as either one. That’s how good they are – still.

Tony
Tony
3 months ago

Excellent article!

German Pens Fan
German Pens Fan
3 months ago

Thanks Dan for the great article, myself is reading here since years quitly . Sorry for my English, as a German it’s not my first language and at age 44 my school lesons are longer ago. I think that the window is still open but there’s a need for adjustments, the Pens need physical players, not goons but some bigger guys. Maybe a Kassian, he’s not a scorer but a big body who can finish a check and is not shy to drop the gloves. Angello as a 4th liner would maybe also help. Zohorno too, he’s not really physical… Read more »

Cal
Cal
3 months ago

Very good article, but I do not totally agree. The reset module is the one I prefer and if it means trading away one of the stars so be it . (except Sid) This of course, hinges on what the return is. I never did agree with the “untradeable” (except Sid) without knowing what the return in the trade is. Albeit highly unlikely to recieve in a trade, there are players that are better than the ones sent out. To be clear, I am not campaigning to trade Geno, Guentzel, Letang etc as I am a fan and supporter of… Read more »

Oh Come On
Oh Come On
3 months ago

If you are going to trade I would think it would be youth. To trade Letang or Malkin you are trading huge salary and unsigned (rental) players. Plus they are 35 with a history of injuries. What is the return value? Just an FYI, I like both of those players especially Letang with what he has come back from. Trading a younger player, example, Guentzel and throw in another young player of your choice. What do you get? A high draft pick and a decent veteran? Is that how you build a winner without blowing up your team?

Vittorio
Vittorio
3 months ago

Well its simple stay with these guys and stick it to Bettman. Having guys who are physical and can score ain’t enough cause if it was teams like the bruins and Caps would have multiple cups but guess what folks they don’t. You need guys that have the speed to play in the Pens lineup. If your signing guys just because there either big or are physical you have clearly screwed your team over.

Steve
Steve
3 months ago

I would have started without making the Kap trade. I would definitely have considered trading Geno and Letang, but of course, not knowing the returns, it’s very difficult to discuss. Of course the Penguin model is to get lucky in the draft. That’s the best and easiest way. Although, as you point out it’s certainly not foolproof. But, IMO, the Pens aren’t close to winning right now. Not close. So, to keep doing the same thing with the same guys year after year, seems foolish, no?

Dan
Dan
3 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I agree Dan…most missed the point entirely 😞

Donny
Donny
3 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Why read an article when fans can build their own time machines, undo/make trades that did/didn’t happen, and then guarantee the Cup every year?

Michael Pavsek
Michael Pavsek
3 months ago

On NHL network radio a prospect analyst said the penguins have the best percentage of draft choices making the nhl and playing 200 games of any team in the last 15 years despite having fewer. Yes they had luck with Crosby and Malkin but there was also a fair bit of expertise too. Blow it up? Hell no

Last edited 3 months ago by Michael Pavsek
Mike
Mike
3 months ago

OK, so here’s to making the playoffs ($$ for 3-4 first round home games) maybe one more year (depending on the NYR surge and Flyers goaltending) and then becoming Chicago/LA. I’m not saying blow up the core, maybe just move one of the pieces out to open up cap space to help add some talent?

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