Is this the Season the Pittsburgh Penguins' Front Office Finally Blow It Up?

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It is weird being in this territory with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Through 15 games, the Penguins have only won five of their contests. Granted, they've earned points in nine of the 15 games which can be seen as a success with the roster they've had to stitch together through injuries and Covid issues.

At 5-6-4 to open the season, the Penguins find themselves sitting in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. They're two points out of last place but close enough to the wild card that they aren't buried yet.

We've seen Sidney Crosby play in just three games due to a wrist injury and a bout with COVID. Evgeni Malkin has just began to start skating following a major knee surgery in the offseason. There are only seven players on the roster that have participated in all 15 games to date. To top it all off, Evan Rodrigues leads the team in points with 11. It's just been that kind of year.

Goaltender Tristan Jarry has arguably been the Pens' best player, after his meltdown in the playoffs last season, while his backup Casey DeSmith has been nothing short of awful. Head coach Mike Sullivan - and interim Todd Rierden during Sullivan's COVID bout - have done just about everything they can to keep the Penguins afloat to this point.

If you've paid any attention to the Penguins this season you don't need me to tell you any of this. What remains to be seen is how the team responds over the next two months. With Sullivan behind the bench, it feels like they'll never quite quit on a season.

Following 15 consecutive playoff appearances, I'd find it very hard to be mad if the Penguins don't make it to the dance this year. I'm 22 years old. Selfishly, I can't truly remember what it's like to watch bad hockey in Pittsburgh.  I don't remember much about Rico Fata or Ziggy Palffy or all of those guys that flanked Crosby in his early years. I was fortunate enough to grow up on Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kuntiz, and Pascal Dupuis, among others. The Penguins have had star power for as long as I've been alive.

There is a very good chance that we'll never have this fortune again in our lifetimes. To have Mario Lemieux, still great into his 40's, pass the torch to Sidney Crosby for another great 15-20 year run is unprecedented in sports. From one top-10 player of all time to another? That's crazy.

But there is an end to everything in sports. Even the greatest dynasties must once again rebuild themselves. Guys can't play forever as much as all of us would love them to.

If there was ever a time to blow things up, maybe it's this season.

Does New Ownership Mark a Rebuild?

Interestingly enough, news broke on Tuesday that Lemieux and co-owner Ron Burkle were in the process of selling the team. After saving Pittsburgh hockey several times, they're going to make nearly nine times the amount of money they've put into the team. The duo has every right to sell off the majority or all of the franchise and set their grandkids' kids up for life. They also know that hardship is on the horizon.

This offseason, the Penguins have the most challenging decision to make since sending Marc-Andre Fleury off to Vegas. They must decide if bringing back Malkin and Letang is feasible for the future of the Penguins. In theory, it isn't at all. They're aging superstars that will command boatloads of money and they've got every right to.

Also consider that Ron Hextall, the team's current general manager, has no affiliation to any of the core guys on this team. He inherited them fully aware of their expiring contracts and knowing he'd be the guy that dissolved this core.

Also, if a contending team offers a boatload for either of those guys, Hextall would be foolish not to take the deal. A handshake deal could be in place before a trade is even made that the Penguins would re-sign one or both of those guys in free agency after acquiring some prospect capital to deal them away.

The same goes for guys like Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin and others. These guys were vital parts of championship teams that are still young enough to help other teams achieve success. Goodness, Guentzel is still only 27 years old. Any team, including the Penguins, would be lucky to have him.

Take Crosby Into Consideration

The recipe for a teardown is almost perfect. The person whose opinion should matter the most, however, even beyond Hextall and Brian Burke, is the captain himself.  With Lemieux reportedly selling most of his ownership away, he won't be making the big decisions around here. Hextall and Burke still have Crosby under contract and he's been the long standing member of this team.

If moving on from his two best friends is problematic in Crosby's eyes, then the ownership and front office must take that into account. If the result of moving those guys is Crosby growing upset and potentially wanting out himself, then that isn't worth it. He is one of those guys that should retire a lifelong Penguin at all costs. In salary cap sports, it is hard to manage that type of longevity. Crosby, the on-ice savior of the Penguins, should forever don a Penguins jersey and nothing else.

Soon enough, the trade deadline will come around and the Penguins will have answered these questions.  They have a lot of problems/questions/frustrations to navigate.

Or maybe none of this matters. Maybe the Penguins get fully healthy and go on a run that pushes this team into the playoffs for a 16th consecutive shot at Lord Stanley. Personally, I want nothing more. There is a real chance, however, that the organization's best days are behind them and that tough decisions must be made.

Ron Hextall and Brian Burke, the ball is in your court.

Comments

  1. They can go either way with me! Yes one more run is there but the defense is second class and NHL Hockey is becoming a goon effect! Pens have no size and get pushed around playoff time!

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