The dust is settling from the Pittsburgh Penguins crash-and-burn early NHL postseason exit almost two weeks ago. The big decisions loom and the Penguins’ needs must be addressed to avoid another repeat of the embarrassing losses which punctuated the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The Penguins have serious questions about their immediate future, have removed three assistant coaches already, and are preparing for what comes next.
There is a myriad of questions they are asking themselves, and fans have a right to ask, or be heard on, as well. As much as many sports professionals voice resistance to considering fan opinion, NHL teams also know ticket sales are a big part of their income. Appeasement isn’t only a Lord Chamberlain strategy, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are known to be sensitive to fan interests.
The Penguins’ consideration of fan interests is the reason there still exists a three-headed core group of players and was almost a four-headed monster or even a five-player core. Yes, in the past, there has been at least one trade in place or nearly in place which was vetoed from above (pre-Rutherford era).
Pittsburgh Penguins questions:
*If it meant not getting close to the Stanley Cup again, would you still like to see both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin retire as Penguins? What about Kris Letang, Crosby, and Malkin?
*If internet “hockey” influencers didn’t throw a temper tantrum the moment after GM Jim Rutherford signed Jack Johnson, would the backlash continue to be so intense? Is it really about Johnson, or have a lot of people emotionally invested in proving themselves correct, being heard, and getting what they want?
The way the internet gatekeepers mocked and twisted Rutherford’s words on Thursday proved a big component has become group validation. The devout rejection or refusal to compute the PHN play diagrams which frequently (but not always) absolved Johnson on some of the most controversial goals-against is…interesting.
*Where are the Penguins going to find a competent, capable top-six RW? There aren’t viable options on the free-agent market.
*Who is calling the shots regarding Mike Sullivan and staff? PHN was the first to report that a phone call from ownership set in motion the events which cleaned house around Sullivan. Who will hire the assistants? And if Sullivan isn’t trusted to do so, why is he the head coach?
*Regarding those coaching vacancies, will the Penguins continue their time-honored tradition of promoting from within or seek new perspectives?
*Would you support a full youth movement? You say you will, but would you buy tickets and watch a group of unproven kids struggling in the NHL and placeholder players scuffling until other kids are ready?
*Should the Penguins consider a full overhaul while Sidney Crosby is only 33-years-old and try to get a hungry, talented team around him before he’s 36?
*If the Penguins fade into mediocrity as Detroit did after the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, are you OK with the long, slow slide because winning is often a buy now, pay later deal?
*Is it possible to get better without splashing into free agency or trading marquee players?
*If trading the 15th overall pick got the Penguins back into real, legitimate contention for two more years, but would mean a prolonged rebuild, would you do it?
*Jim Rutherford is a fan’s dream as a GM. He’s always working the phones to improve his team, undo mistakes and he’s honest. However, the Penguins are nearing the end of their run. How much longer will he hold the job?
Stanley Cup-winning GMs have a mixed history. Some, like Jay Feaster (Tampa Bay) and Dean Lombardi (LA) go with their coach or shortly after. Others, such as Stan Bowman (Chicago) and Ken Holland (Detroit) got to stick around.
*Can Rutherford find a way to finally pry Sam Bennett from Calgary?
*Edmonton needs a starting goalie. They also have a peachy RW prospect with whom they’ve been at war (Jesse Puljujarvi). Is there symmetry there?
*Lastly, and most importantly, what will it take to excite the Pittsburgh Penguins, and you, about 2020-21?