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Has the Penguins Window Closed?

With a 1-9 record in their last 10 playoff games and an aging core, is it time to call it on the Penguins championship window?

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin 2017-10-04 by Michael Miller is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Has the Penguins Window Closed?


Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The Pittsburgh Penguins were bounced from the playoffs before the playoffs even began last Friday, losing to the Montreal Canadiens 3 games to 1 in a best-of-5 qualifier. Crosby turned 33 Friday, Evgeni Malkin is 34 and Kris Letang is 33. The Penguins are 1-9 in their last 10 playoff games. The question has to be asked. Has the Penguin’s championship window shut for good?

Fans, analysts, and wide-eyed Capitals fans asked those very questions in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Are the Crosby led Pens finished? They weren’t then, and they aren’t now. However, just like in 2014, change is needed now to give the final chapter of the Crosby/Malkin era the best shot at success. It’s time for some uncomfortable talks Pens fans. Let’s take a look at the problem areas.

Coaching

In 2014 GM Jim Rutherford ended the Dan Bylsma era in Pittsburgh. The decision has to be made that perhaps the Mike Sullivan era has also seen its time expire. All NHL coaches have a shelf life. The grave mistake made by Pens management was not realizing Bylsma’s expiration date had passed a few years prior to his termination. They don’t have time to make the same mistake with Sullivan.

Sullivan stepped right into a coach’s gold mine. A solid core, a secondary set of all-stars like Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin, young hungry minor leaguers ready to get the nod and prove themselves, and 2 quality starting goaltenders. 2016 may have very well been the best overall team the Penguins had ever iced. That same team was kept intact in 2017. The result was back to back Stanley Cup wins. However, personnel turnover is part of the game and reacting to that separates the good coaches from the great ones. Sullivan has seemed to struggle with a talented but overall imperfect roster in the years since.

Consider the Pens final game of the season. Jack Johnson, who continues to see ice time despite possibly being one of the worst 5v5 defensemen in the league, got more ice time 5v5 than Sidney Crosby. Johnson was a -5 in the series where the Habs netted only 10 goals. He was on the ice for 3 of the 4 goals against in game 3.

In the last 2 minutes and facing elimination Sullivan had his 4th line out on the ice. I can’t even rationalize that. The Power Play is also in shambles, so as not to only pick on Sullivan. The Power Play struggled to find the back of the net as well, going just 3-17 with the man advantage. I wouldn’t look at Mark Recchi‘s job as safe either.

Sullivan will be fondly remembered for bringing the Pens ;back to the promised land not once but twice. However, the years remaining with this core are numbered and too precious to give him the Dan Bylsma benefit of the doubt. 1-9 in his last 10 playoff games. Sorry, pal!

Goaltending

Matt Murray was outstanding when he came into the league following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury in 2016. Murray was so good in fact, he retained the starting goaltending job into the playoffs and the next season, winning two Stanley Cups in the process. He has since fallen back to earth. He’s a good enough goalie but overall he’s been fairly average since 2017. Tristan Jarry seemed to be the heir apparent to the Flower. Jarry needed further development and Matt Murray was hot at the right time. With both being RFAs I think it’s time to back Jarry and attempt to trade Murray to a team that wishes to sign him long term.

Player Personnel

The team needs to get faster. Speed is what won them the Cups in 2016 & 17. Since then there has been a penchant among GM Jim Rutherford to get slower and dumber. How else do you explain signing former Rutherford draft pick (2005) and Crosby’s friend Jack Johnson? They say “if you can’t do, teach” I don’t think Johnson should even do that. We don’t need a generation of pisspoor hockey players out there. Somehow, somewhere, someone thought this guy was good enough at hockey to warrant a 3rd overall pick in the draft and a $5million contract with the Penguins. Both of those people were Jim Rutherford.

Sacrificing speed for strength

In addition to Johnson, trading a 1st round pick and a prospect for 4th liner Ryan Reeves and defensemen Erik Gudbranson didn’t help either. JR’s job is safe based on his track record, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel. Jared McCann, Trevor Daley, and Jason Zucker were all good moves. The Penguins need to cut the weight and get faster. Sid, Geno, and Letang can run and gun with these young speedsters all day. (See Jake Guentzel‘s production over the years)

The famed ‘HBK’ line of the Pittsburgh Penguins circa 2016.

The Penguins don’t need grit and toughness like Rutherford wanted in order to match the Capitals year in and year out. For two years we burned them with speed and burned them with good goaltending en route to back-to-back Cups. The Pens system is built for speed and that is what they need to get back to. Gone or not resigned should be Johnson, Justin Schultz, Nick Bjugstad, Patrick Marleau, and Conor Sheary. If there are upgrades to Zach Aston Reese and Brandon Tanev I say go for it.

Whoever is behind the bench next year can’t be afraid to bench the slumping players and change up the lines to ride the chemistry or hot hand. Malkin and Guentzel have tremendous chemistry this season, while Rust and Crosby found success at times. Yet Guentzel was always with Sid and Rust always with Geno.

What’s Next?

The Penguins need to get busy this offseason, they have work to do, and they can’t afford a year of dragging their feet. I believe Crosby and Geno will be around well into their 40s but time runs out quickly.

Has the Penguins window closed?

The answer is: It depends on what happens next.

Christian is husband, father and video editor working in New York City. Originally from the Greater Pittsburgh Area he is a life long fan The Steelers, Penguins and Pirates as well as Professional Wrestling.

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