We have come to wonder about defenseman Kris Letang and his future with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His contract expires after this season. The same goes for fellow three-time Stanley Cup-winning core teammate Evgeni Malkin.
GM Ron Hextall said the team planned to begin negotiations after free agency. Hextall went on record July 23 as saying he expected Letang and Malkin back.
However, the Penguins have not yet dished new contracts for their future Hall of Famers or Bryan Rust. There hasn’t been a single report of talks, either. Not even a whisper. All talks are either top secret or non-existent.
Now the chessboard will change in significant and all-encompassing ways.
The people who sign the paychecks will change.
By all accounts, the Fenway Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and the famed Liverpool English Premier League team amongst its holdings, is about to take a controlling interest in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Reports indicated Mario Lemieux would retain some ownership, but that could be anything from a substantial minority ownership stake to a small figurehead share.
We don’t yet know how much Lemieux will retain. That’s probably a significant fulcrum on which the future of the Penguins hinges, too.
Lemieux blessed the efforts to repair a rift with Evgeni Malkin and reaffirm the ties that bind. The offseason of 2019 seems like a lifetime and a plague ago, but the relationship between Malkin and the Penguins reached its breaking point. We’ve reported the story, as have others since, that Malkin was unhappy and all sides were considering moving on.
In the shaded light of history, some have downplayed the drama. We’ll never know just how close the sides were to separation, but at the moment, it indeed seemed to be on the precipice–and other teams believed it was, too.
Lemieux’s leadership charted the course to ride or die with the current Penguins core.
Mario Lemieux finished his career with one organization, and the words from all involved have indicated that is the plan for the Penguins’ current core, too.
Is or Was the Pittsburgh Penguins Plan?
New owners usually have different views and ideas. A $7 billion corporation known for acquiring fabled teams and sometimes laying waste to the status quo may not care about the last 15 years.
So, here’s the million-dollar question: Without the same emotional attachment and appreciation, will new owners choose to invest millions into players to preserve a legacy despite a decreasing chance of a championship?
Lemieux’s stake in the team could help answer the question, too.
John Henry has not been a wildly popular owner in Liverpool. Last April, Henry upset the entire English Premier League when he tried to move Liverpool from the EPL to a breakaway superleague that he helped found with other mega-rich teams across Europe.
Within days, the super league folded as fans revolted, and the backlash was so intense, Henry issued a video apology.
It wasn’t the first time Henry and Liverpool’s faithful crossed because of insensitive business operations.
In 2016, Henry was under fire because the Liverpool website listed the core operation of the Fenway Group as “transforming fans into customers.”
That was on the heels of criticism that revamped ticket price modeling after signing a huge new TV deal was “morally unjustifiable.”
It’s a far cry from the Lemieux Group, which has largely been immune to criticism in its two-decade ownership and seen as a model of fan-friendly stewardship.
It’s certainly not inconceivable that as one ownership group defined the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as classy and loyal by riding into the sunset with Letang and Malkin, and a new ownership group will see a different decision as nothing personal but strictly business.
After this season, Sidney Crosby has three years remaining on his 12-year contract.
While we’re asking if new owners will push for a new direction, the reverse could be true, too. Without his former landlord and teammate in the owner’s box, will Sidney Crosby view the Pittsburgh Penguins organization the same way?
What if organizational changes don’t suit Crosby? Would he finish his career elsewhere?
After decades of ownership turmoil, Lemieux and Ron Burkle did what no one else could do–they brought stability and business success to the Penguins.
Change is scary. A new ownership group that spends hundreds of billions on the team has earned the right to chart its own course.
But those are the questions everyone involved must answer. What is their immediate vision for the Pittsburgh Penguins?
The questions must be asked.
And we can hold them to the answers, without the same loyalty or blind eye, because the Fenway Group is not a local hero who risked everything to save an organization, again.
Change is scary.