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Why the Dark Cloud? Is a Penguins Rebuild Inevitable?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Nathan Legare, Moritz Seider

There is a black cloud hanging above the Pittsburgh Penguins. The offseason re-signings of stalwart superstar players were not met with the overwhelming relief and joy that other fanbases may have experienced. In some measure, the totality of the signings was met with dread and disappointment by the Penguins fanbase. The rebuild did not begin. The tear-it-down-to-the-studs destruction of the Penguins dynasty became a fortification with the new contracts to Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, and even Rickard Rakell.

As candles on the aging cake, the Penguins’ big trade acquisition was 34-year-old defenseman, Jeff Petry.

Rather than see the sunshine, many have decided it is over. Done. Too old. Bring out the Black dresses, tears, flowers, and fond stories of what was. And send over buckets of chicken if you can’t be there for the wake.

Kind of a pessimistic view, given that the group also includes Sidney Crosby, eh?

The improved blue line itself should provide the Penguins with a renewed sense of possibility. Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke indeed thinks so.

“I think we’re a better team,” Burke said. “Now, we’re just waiting for camp to start,” Burke told colleague Dave Molinari in comments published on Monday.

It might be a mistake to assume that a rebuild means Stanley Cups in the near future. Perhaps I’m getting off-topic. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired the best players available to them this offseason, essentially did it below market value, and are one of a handful of teams with a legitimate shot to win the Eastern Conference.

Yet there remains a persistent dread for the future, seemingly overtaking any optimism for the immediate.

But is a rebuild truly necessary?

Pittsburgh Penguins Rebuild?

Conventional wisdom says yes, absolutely. Wisdom also posits it is not possible for a team to remain a contender through transition, high draft picks are necessary, and the only way to acquire them is to trade star players or lose. And usually lose some more.

Want to know a secret?

There exists one window. One chance the Penguins and GM Ron Hextall can avoid the R-word and glide from the Crosby-Malkin-Letang era into the next without the torture of losing games by the dozen, playing before empty arenas and sagging TV ratings.

The Penguins might get extremely lucky for a third time.

They out-tanked the New Jersey Devils in 1983 to get Mario Lemieux.

After that magic was running out for a second time, the next phenom, Sidney Crosby, arrived after the Penguins won a full league lottery.

And there could be a third opportunity. No, it won’t be tanking for Conor Bedard or even the player who follows him in the 2024 NHL Draft. No, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have a great opportunity because of COVID.

The great scourge upon the earth, which shut down the world, including the NHL, will give the Penguins one chance to retool on the fly.

Penguins Salary Cap

According to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the salary cap will spike after 2023-24. In two years, the Penguins will be flush with cash. If Hextall plays his cards correctly, he could be able to spend more than his competition and snag the biggest names on the market.

To do that, Hextall will need a moratorium on long-term, expensive contracts. He needs the Ray Shero special and to patchwork short-term deals next summer to have maximum flexibility should a big-time center hit the market. Perhaps a rock-ribbed top defenseman. Or multiple variations of those positions which can sustain the team.

In the meantime, hitting it big with a few prospects wouldn’t hurt, either. 2021 first-rounder Owen Pickering was a good start. Perhaps a few prospects, including Valtteri Puustinen, Lukas Svejkovsky, Joel Blomqvist, or Sam Poulin, will pop, giving the Penguins additional low-cost options, so they can save their pennies and splash the cash on UFAs.

That’s why Hextall wisely pulled back from trading Jason Zucker because it would have included the Penguins first-round pick, too.

A few low-cost prospects turned players who produce would shave years off “rebuild” if not help avoid it entirely.

It’s the holy grail of GMs: transition from success to success without the sewer of losing in between. The Chicago Blackhawks, LA Kings and Detroit Red Wings before them all tried and failed. The Penguins have already been handed a couple of holy grails with Lemieux and Crosby. Maybe, just maybe, Hextall can reach for a third.

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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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Rob
Rob
22 days ago

I am not in a hurry for a rebuild. As long as Crosby is still going on all cylinders, this team will be in the playoffs. Hopefully some of the draft picks Hex has been keeping will be a hit in a year or two and inject some youth into the lineup. Until then making the playoffs should be the goal and if by some luck/miracle the team is healthy, they still have what it takes to make a run!

Knobman
Knobman
22 days ago

I think Hextall had his opportunity to start the transition this summer and missed it. Signing Malkin and caving on term for Letang will prolong the misery. The Pens may have a couple of good seasons from this but will become a big problem before long. I like the moves he made with the D, but signing Malkin for longer than two years, signing Kapanen, Carter, and Archibald were not wise moves. Good players were available as free agents this summer, but you need to pick up the phone to make things happen and Hextall just won’t do it. Zohorna,… Read more »

Pepper
Pepper
22 days ago
Reply to  Knobman

Yep. People talk past each other here a lot. It all comes down to whether you consider making the playoffs a good enough outcome. I personally don’t. I think Crosby is one of the best all time, so the team should have been retooled around him and the way his game has evolved. When you have a Michael Jordan on your team you need to do everything possible to contend for the title as many times as possible. I think ownership and management have taken the safer and easier path, which also happens to guarantee ticket and merch sales. They’ll… Read more »

ric Jefferies
ric Jefferies
22 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

AGREE !

Fredrick
Fredrick
20 days ago
Reply to  Knobman

Idk if they weren’t wise moves. Kap will be on the 3rd line and potentially the PK a role which he thro

Fredrick
Fredrick
20 days ago
Reply to  Knobman

In two years Carter will be off the books. This offseason Zucker will be. I think Carter and Kap. Will play better than they did last season. Kap will finally be on the 3rd line which is a role he thrived in with Toronto. We brought in some younger talent and also brought in some toughness which we lacked. This team has lacked balance for a while. I think Hex is in good shape for next season. Our prospects are starting to build up and not be a lacking area. Next offseason Dumo, Zucker and Jarry are FAs and if… Read more »

Wasnt
22 days ago

I don’t feel a dark cloud and don’t have a problem with the signings (except Kap) just wish the Pens would’ve picked up a few tough guys to protect our some day Legends.

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
22 days ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Watched the 2008 final vs. the Wings. An aging veteran laded team outskated the young up and coming team. Won in 6 games. It could happen again.

Pepper
Pepper
22 days ago

There’s a lot of wishful thinking in here. A rise in the cap level is not an advantage for the Pens. It affects every team. And since there are only so many rosterable players it means asking prices will go up commensurate with the cap rise amount. It will just be more money chasing the same number of players. Demand will go up, supply remains steady. Wages get inflated. Also, the Pens’ big money guys are under long term contract, which limits flexibility. And I’d love for prospects to hit big but that’s not really a sure strategy. More of… Read more »

Phil
Phil
20 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

Thats the problem you think any mediocre team makes the playoffs. You dont understand how significant it is to make the playoffs. Making the playoffs is contending. It’s not easy to make the playoffs. Thats definitely a very unusual statement. Perhaps you have never played sports. But it’s very difficult to make the playoffs especially in professional athletics. Teams that make the playoffs are competitive and capable of winning. And as for the pens they had a good season 103 pts. And if not for injuries and a 3rd string goalie we move on past the NYR. We out played… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
19 days ago
Reply to  Phil

Phil, you are my BFF

Phil
Phil
18 days ago

Thank you, my brother. We rational penguins supporters must stick together. A bunch of ungrateful crazies in this fan base.

Alan Smith
22 days ago

Who has rebuilt lately and succeeded in making their conference final or even the playoffs? Rather make conference finals every year then climb the ladder! If everything works then the Cup returns to the Burg! If they get close and provide the excitement for the next two or three years then I’m happy!

Wasnt
22 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Rangers turned it around pretty quick

Alan Smith
22 days ago
Reply to  Wasnt

A lot of luck and a few cheap shots! Best of sevens back to back and Tampa put and end to their comeback! Unimpressive and boring!

Wasnt
20 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Boring?? Not if your a Rangers fan. They come back from 3 down to beat the Pens. If any of those cheap shot guys played for the Pens I bet you’d have a totally different attitude. Rangers had know one except Zibinajad or whatever his name is. Lost their captain to Tampa, the King retired Zuca went to the Wild.
If they could just get Panerin to turn back into the Bread man instead of pass first shoot second they could of gone further.

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[…] Pittsburgh Penguins: There is a black cloud hanging above the Pittsburgh Penguins. The offseason re-signings of stalwart superstar players were not met with the overwhelming relief and joy that other fanbases may have experienced. Are they a team that should have gone into a rebuild a few years ago? Dan Kingerski asks the question. Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

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[…] Pittsburgh Penguins may be entering some uncharted territory–a spot they haven’t seen in nearly two […]

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[…] With the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ core all in the twilight years of their career, is a rebuild in Steeltown […]

Rob
Rob
21 days ago

I suppose that my point of view is way different than a bunch of people. I am quite happy with the offseason signings. Who was available and better than Letang, Malkin, and Rust? Name them, go ahead. The penguins signed all three and for way less money than they would have gotten on the open market. Also, how do you think Crosby’s mood would have been had they let his brothers go for nothing? This is a tight knit group and they let a large piece go (Fleury) and haven’t made it out of the first round since. It would… Read more »

Pete
Pete
21 days ago
Reply to  Rob

We will know in 6 months. Now that 71 has his $$ on his last contract, will he play hard? Will he play D? Will he play 60 games? Or will he just shoot on the PP and continue to be a minus player 5×5 like last year? How is the knee? What is the fire in his belly? I hope he comes out with an MVP type year but Im concerned that now that he has his $$ he may just find it easier to play PP offense and little to no 5×5 defense.
Lets Go Pens!

Rob
Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  Pete

Geno will be fine. He should actually have steady linemates for the first time in forever.

Pete
Pete
21 days ago
Reply to  Rob

I hope so. We shall see.

Rob
Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  Pete

I mean, he still had over a point per game on a freshly repaired and rehabed knee last season. That is more than a majority of teams can say about the 2C! A full offseason of training, plus training camp, and consistent linemates, its all adding up for another solid season. Barring another freak injury of course! 🤞

Pete
Pete
20 days ago
Reply to  Rob

He has the potential for a big year. He also has the potential to be lazy and not play D. I hope he has a big year. Like I said, I am concerned. The term he got was stupid so its now or never. If he plays hard it will be great. If he doesn’t, the Pens just got ripped off. We shall see!

Rob
Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  Pete

Also, if he was just about the money, he could have gotten more elsewhere.

Chalkdust
Chalkdust
21 days ago

Please, I’m sick of the world rebuild. Restructure is a better word. Anyway, Malkin and Letang were not resigned for a, sorry, can’t say the word.

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[…] headed for a rebuild? Well… maybe, especially with the Metropolitan Division heating up. Pittsburgh Penguins […]

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[…] Penguins headed for a rebuild? Well… maybe, especially with the Metropolitan Division heating up. Pittsburgh Penguins […]

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[…] Hockey Now: With the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ core all in the twilight years of their career, is a rebuild in Steeltown […]

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
21 days ago

embrace the hate; let it rainnn!

Rob
Rob
21 days ago
Reply to  maybeTROLLn

Lol