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Where Are Penguins Headed? Future Not Clear But it Should Be



Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin battles for a loose puck
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 01: Washington Capitals Center Jay Beagle (83) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) battle for a face-off win during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round in the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 1, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

It would be ridiculous to see Mick Jagger without the Rolling Stones, or just as it once was watching Joe Perry without Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. But the lines on the Pittsburgh Penguins face are getting clearer. The past is gone and it went by like dusk to dawn. The 2019 Pittsburgh Penguins stand on the verge of breaking up the band in an effort to quell backroom issues and extend the longevity of the chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Isn’t that the way, everybody’s got the dues in life to pay. In the wake of the second report which stated the Florida Panthers and the Penguins have chatted about the possibility of dealing Evgeni Malkin, a full-scale overhaul could be on the horizon. Or not. The Penguins could stand pat because they cannot recoup enough value to quickly re-tool, or for other reasons including loyalty.

Huge decisions are looming. And perhaps the Penguins should be far more aggressive than any fan wants to see, especially given the feeling in the room.

“I don’t think there’s any need to hit the panic button,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang told The Athletic at an event this week in Montreal.

Letang’s comment may be indicative of the biggest reason to move forward on something akin to a nuclear option, regardless of the Malkin decision: The eye of the tiger is gone (Survivor reference). Having stood in the middle of the Penguins locker room after the losses to the New York Islanders which should have been humbling, my feel for the room never felt that humbleness. Or anger. Or overriding disgust; the kind of hunger which they felt in 2007 when the veteran Ottawa Senators schooled the kids in Round One. Or the kind of palpable anger Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist displayed in Washington on March 1, 2016 when the team blew a third period lead to an over-the-top Washington comeback and wild Washington crowd which didn’t sit for the third period.

Following the game, Crosby and Hornqvist spoke in the shoebox-sized visitor’s locker room through gritted teeth and seething anger. The Penguins lost only a few games for the rest of the regular season and commanded the playoffs, too. Remember the March of the Penguins? That game was the launch pad.

Where will that spark come from if leaders don’t feel changes are necessary after being publicly spanked by the gritty yet far less talented Islanders?

The Penguins are at the crossroads. They are attempting to cash in on their last chance to deal Phil Kessel without swallowing a bitter pill. You’ve got to lose to know how to win (ok, enough Aerosmith quotes) and the Penguins had to lose in a big way to realize more than half their lives are books, written pages (ok, one more).

The Penguins should shuffle the deck, beyond Kessel and/or Olli Maatta. A few changes for the sake of change could or should also be in order…regardless of the Malkin decision.

If the Penguins followed through on everything which has been discussed, they would be sans Malkin, Kessel, Maatta and perhaps others as GM Jim Rutherford rototillers the Penguins garden. The Penguins need to be overturned.

It just isn’t there, anymore. Too much champagne, beer, success, and money will dull even the most intense players. Life in the fast lane surely will make you lose your mind.

The Penguins are 14 days away from the NHL Draft and their best chance to begin to make the big changes which are probably necessary…regardless of the Malkin decision.

Or not.

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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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