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Wednesday, July 6, 2022
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Will the Penguins Need to Be Bad to Get Good? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog


I was pondering the present state of our Penguins this morning, when a question popped into my head. Will the Pens need to be bad before they can be good?

Before I expound, I need to mention that Hall-of-Famer Dave Molinari wrote a similar piece on Pittsburgh Hockey Now titled Molinari’s One-Timers: Want to Win Big in the NHL? Start By Losing. An excellent read.

It’s safe to say that the seeds for our five Stanley Cup winners were, indeed, sown in losing. Following a nearly endless run of mediocrity during the team’s early years, culminating in a near-miss against the powerhouse Islanders in the 1982 playoffs, the bottom fell out. A team thought to be only a few players away instead of collapsing in 1982-83, winning only 18 games while plummeting into the Patrick Division cellar.

Acutely aware of the need to build through the draft, newly promoted general manager Eddie Johnston broke with the team’s destructive legacy of dealing draft choices for veterans. He basically train-wrecked the ’83 -84 squad in order to draft franchise savior Mario Lemieux. Over the next few seasons EJ continued to build with youth, drafting plums like Craig Simpson, Robbie Brown, Doug Bodger and Zarley Zalapskigood to excellent players who would later serve as key trade pieces.

Craig Patrick finished off the championship puzzle by acquiring established stars and future Hall-of-Famers Joey Mullen, Larry Murphy and Bryan Trottier. Just as important if not more so was his selection of Czech wunderkind and soon-to-be-supernova Jaromir Jagr with the fifth overall pick in 1990.

However, following our back-to-back Stanley Cup triumphs in ’91 and ’92, Patrick seemed to disregard the draft, instead relying on big trades and adroit free-agent signings to keep the Pens on a short list of contenders. The aim, of course, to maximize the window of opportunity to win more Cups with Lemieux and Jagr.

If that modus operandi sounds all-too-familiar, it should. Jim Rutherford followed the same blueprint in recent seasons to surround Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with a competitive team in hopes of garnering a sixth Cup.

The temptation to grab for the brass ring is understandable and even admirable. Go for it while you can. However, fixating on the short run is a zero-sum game. You eventually exhaust your tradeable assets and the window of opportunity slams shut, especially if you’re not restocking the organization with quality young talent.

Such was the case in the early 2000s. Patrick was forced to gut the team due to tight finances, exposing a prospect cupboard that was practically bare. Armed with a slew of prime picks due to the team’s struggles, including two number ones and a number two overall, Patrick reversed his course and drafted brilliantly.

Of course, there was more than a little luck and providence involved. Generational talents Crosby and Malkin just happened to be available, not to mention the likes of Colby Armstrong, Alex Goligoski, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang, Ryan Malone, Rob Scuderi, Ryan Whitney of Spittin ‘Chicklets fame and, of course, beloved “Food” Max Talbot. An influx of young talent set us up for our last three Cups.

And now? Despite GM Ron Hextall’s stated desire to keep the team competitive, it would appear we’re once again on the brink of a lengthy teardown and rebuild. Even if we sign pending UFAs Malkin and Letang, or perhaps more to the point, if we do, there will be precious little cap space left to make needed upgrades to the supporting cast. Nor is there much in the way of ready-made replacements at Wilkes-Barre / Scranton. Once again, our prospect pipeline is virtually dry.

Was there any way to avoid this grim scenario? Was there another path we could’ve taken?

Yes.

One our Metro Division rival the Rangers have executed brilliantly.

Following aborted Stanley Cup runs in 2014 and ’15, then-GM Jeff Gorton rebuilt his team on the fly, swapping out productive veterans like Kevin Hayes, Ryan McDonagh, JT Miller and Mats Zuccarello for draft choices and prospects. The moves may not have been popular with the MSG faithful at the time. But thanks largely to Gorton’s trades, which netted a slew of prime picks, the Blueshirts minimized their down time and are once again poised to compete for hockey’s most treasured prize.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Frankly, it would’ve taken an enormous amount of planning and foresight and just plain guts to trade off a Malkin and / or a Letang while they were still under contract. It no doubt would’ve created a lag on the team’s performance in the short run. But it may have helped in the long run.

Water under the bridge and well down stream at this point.

Even if Hextall wanted to follow the Rangers’ path, it’s an option that’s no longer available to the black and gold. Unless, of course, we sign Malkin and Letang to cap-friendly contracts and then deal them for prospects and picks. Which is about as likely to occur as a rainless spring in the ‘Burgh.

I’ll return to my original question. Will the Pens need to be bad before they can be good?

It would appear so.





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