There’s an old saying. Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.
So it goes with the prevailing sentiment about our Penguins. There have been numerous articles published on myriad sites not only suggesting that there’ll be plenty of turnover among our favorite flightless waterfowl this offseason, but clamoring for the changes as well.
After five straight early postseason exits, there’s no question the black-and-gold’s in need of an overhaul if not a complete tear down. With no fewer than nine UFAs on the present roster, including franchise icons and future Hall-of-Famers Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letangit seems very likely a sea change could occur.
Indeed, the Pens simply do not have the cap space to bring back all their pending free agents at anticipated rates. While letting some or all the guys walk would potentially free up significant cap space and present an opportunity to add new talent, it’s a sword that cuts both ways.
Sorry if I sound less-than-enthused about the coming shakeup. It’s just that I still have nightmares about the early 2000s. Tenuous finances forced then-GM Craig Patrick to trade away Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev and “Energizer Bunny” Martin Straka, leaving a burned-out shell of a team behind. A skeleton crew that even the incomparable Mario Lemieux could not prop up.
With a farm system laid bare from trading draft picks for veterans (sound familiar?) And other picks wasted on questionable talents such as Robert Dome and Konstanin Koltsov, there was little to no help from inside the organization. Resulting in four straight non-playoff seasons.
The 2003-04 squad was particularly dismal, descending into a club-record 18-game winless streak.
Thankfully, our fates were soon to be restored, largely through the draft. We had the extreme good fortune to be in a position to select generational talents Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Malkin. The mercurial Letang was plucked in the third round of the 2005 draft.
Enjoying a resurgence at the draft table, Patrick and head scout Greg Malone unearthed plums such as Colby Armstrong, Alex Goligoski, Tyler Kennedy, Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik, Max Talbot and Ryan Whitney. By the time Ray Shero took over in 2006, the foundation for the future Stanley Cup champions was firmly in place.
Our current situation is in many ways eerily reminiscent of the early 2000s. We may well lose franchise pills Malkin and Letang to free agency, to say nothing of top-sixers Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell. In particular, Letang would be just about impossible to replace. He does so many things well and like a fine wine, seems to be improving with age and maturity.
Players of Geno’s pedigree do not grow on trees, either. Never mind that he may be a little long in the tooth.
A handful of potentially useful support players aside (PO Joseph, Drew O’Connor, Samuel Poulin, Valtteri Puustinen and Radim Zohorna), there’s little in the way of legit young talent on hand to plug the gaps.
Which suggests whatever high-profile improvements the Pens make in the short run will mostly need to come from outside the organization, either through trades or free agency.
Depending on who departs, we could have up to $ 29 million in cap space to work with. That’s an impressive chunk of change, fueling hopes for a fairly quick turnaround and rebuild.
I’m not sure if I agree.
Although he’s done an admirable job thus far, swinging trades and signing free agents aren’t necessarily GM Ron Hextall’s bailiwicks.
It’s also important to note that teams built largely through free agency do not necessarily succeed. For a number of years in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Rangers GM Glen Sather routinely signed the biggest-name free agents around (Wayne Gretzky, Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros, Mark Messier to name a few). The Rangers missed the playoffs seven seasons in a row.
There’s something about having a team’s logo stenciled on a player’s heart that provides value.
So it was with our Pens. The seeds for our ’90s champions and more recent Cup winners were sown through the draft. And building through the draft takes time.
Yes, all good things must eventually come to an end, and so it is with our current core of champions. But when the dust settles on the inevitable changes? I hope we’re not left singing that old Cinderella power ballad, Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).