The Chicago Blackhawks young superstar core group followed the Pittsburgh Penguins young core group to Stanley Cup success in 2010. While the Penguins sputtered over the next five years, Chicago won three Stanley Cups before the Penguins core roared for back-to-back victories in 2016 and 2017.
To be transparent, Chicago is now rebuilding around their core of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They sent an open letter to their fans, which explained the coming process.
“We recently said goodbye to a pair of popular, two-time champions and acquired some new players via trade and free agency,” the Chicago Blackhawks letter began. “We understand it was tough to see those respected veterans go, and realize you may have some questions about our direction.”
Halfway across the country, the Pittsburgh Penguins said goodbye to two-time champion Patric Hornqvist. However, the Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford are taking a different path to winning one more time during the Sidney Crosby era.
At least for the next two seasons.
The Penguins said goodbye to champions, but there can be no “rebuilding letter” from the Penguins anytime soon. While Chicago “committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster,” the Penguins do not have that luxury until at least June 2022.
“We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players…” the Chicago letter continued.
The next time the Pittsburgh Penguins will address the NHL Draft in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft. The Penguins 2021 draft table is already on part-time status with picks in only rounds 2, 5, and 7.
Instead, Rutherford has tried to insert young veterans on the fly. Cody Ceci, Mark Jankowski, and Evan Rodrigues were/are the Penguins free agent signings. They’re in their mid-20s.
Whether any of the free agents stick past their one-year deals or are momentarily placeholders will be up to the players as much as the Penguins.
But the Penguins could find themselves in a similar situation during the next offseason, too.
The Penguins trade acquisition of Kasperi Kapanen both added youth and subtracted it. The first-round pick lost in the deal would have been an 18-year-old soon ready for the NHL. However, Kapanen is only 23 and the team presumes him to immediately fortify the Crosby line.
The Penguins will not be able to develop young players behind the current roster. The uncomfortable fact is, there aren’t any young players in the system. The Penguins have a pair of blue-chip prospects, Sam Poulin and P-O Joseph, and a couple of others with outside chances to make an impact at the NHL level.
And that’s it.
The Penguins will not begin to stockpile prospects or rebuild for at least two years, but even then, it seems the Penguins will continue chasing one last shot at glory.
Even after the chances have faded.
The soonest the Pittsburgh Penguins, without a major shakeup of thought and core personnel, could send a “rebuilding letter” is in 2023. Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang will be 36-years-old, and Evgeni Malkin will be 37.
A letter, at that point, would be met with eye-rolls and Captain Obvious comments. And in 2023, the Pittsburgh Penguins will only have a couple of top-picks in the system. That is hardly a new core to build around, partly because the picks will likely be in the mid to later first round and partly because of a lack of quantity.
The Penguins certainly can’t afford to miss on a pick, either.
“As our young players develop and learn how to win consistently, they’ll make some mistakes,” the Chicago letter concluded. “Inevitably, we’ll miss the mark sometimes, too…”
This week, LA Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti spoke with the National Hockey Now family. By his estimation, a draft pick that reaches the NHL can save an organization $15 million.
However, the Penguins will not be in a position to stock their lineup with homegrown picks until 2024 (two years after the full 2022 Draft, assuming no picks are dealt for immediate needs between now and then). The 2024 estimate also assumes the Penguins pick very well in the 2021 and 2022 Drafts, and those players take only two years to reach the big show.
The reality is, after the next season, maybe two, the Penguins are in for a fight against significant decline, which will probably last until 2025 or 2026, at the earliest.
The Penguins have already decided to re-tool as they go. The tradeable assets are few, the prospect pool shallow. The Pittsburgh Penguins are who they are and will remain who they are for several years.
No letter needed.