Saturday, April 25, 2015

Crosby, Malkin didn't sign on for this

Friday, April 24, 2015, 11:31 p.m.

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is checked by Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers during the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) 

NEW YORK — Promises get broken.

So do hockey franchises.

When those happenings coincide, something has to change.

So even though the Penguins don't want to end the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era, I'm not sure they're going to have a choice in the matter.

It's not that the franchise centers are unhappy. (They are, but they've been that way since last summer). They've lost faith in the direction of the franchise. And I'm not sure what can be said — especially to Malkin — to make things right.

Something has to be done in the wake of the Penguins' 2-1 series-ending overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 5 on Friday at Madison Square Garden that eliminated them from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Otherwise, the Penguins might have to sell another early playoff exit and a trade they'd rather not make.

Co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux could have a lot more to consider than whether to let pride — or stubbornness — get in the way of doing what's best for business. They must hire a new general manager, one who understands the NHL's not-so-new salary-cap dynamic, a hockey boss with autonomy to make hockey moves.

Because this isn't what Crosby and Malkin signed on for when each agreed to a second long-term contract at below market-value salary.

The Penguins are unrecognizable. They've gone from the marquee to the second stage. Or, put in hockey terms, from Stanley Cup contender to playoff pretender.

Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins watches as a shot goes wide on Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Injuries didn't help, but this season was far from sabotaged by them. Rather it was a last gasp from a franchise that once promoted its new arena as destiny's new home.

From within, the home appears to be crumbling. The organization has degenerated into a toxic mix of a dysfunctional hockey operations department and a business side too occupied with selling youth hockey than winning and scoring.

Winning and scoring is what Crosby and Malkin were sold, too.

This season, the winning and scoring dipped. By no coincidence, so did the TV ratings, interest in playoff tickets and the confidence of Crosby and Malkin.

Bad luck ruined the Penguins' best-laid plans for the prime years of Crosby and Malkin. And certainly neither Crosby nor Malkin has done enough over the past six postseasons to bring back the Cup. But they're not the problem.

Actually, they've masked a lot of organizational problems, including but not limited to an aging roster, infatuation with puck-moving defensemen, the win-now (at the expense of draft picks) approach and the equally inexcusable and embarrassing failure to find wingers for two future Hall of Fame centers.

Do you know who shouldn't be playing with better wingers than Crosby and Malkin? Connor McDavid. But he will with Edmonton next season.

Blame Ray Shero or Jim Rutherford. Both GMs blew it when it came to Crosby and Malkin. Two years ago, Crosby and Malkin played with their least-talented supporting cast … until this past year, when it was worse.

Most depressing is the bleak future.

The Penguins won't escape salary-cap purgatory because so much of their payroll is tied into too few players, several of whom are well past their primes and provide little trade value. The biggest problem area (forwards) is also the weakest part of the prospect system. And there aren't enough draft picks because of foolish trades.

This is a mess, and Crosby and Malkin aren't two of the world's greatest cleaners.

They are two of the world's greatest hockey players, and they've always taken less money to give the Penguins a chance to win.

They were promised far better than their bosses have delivered.

Lemieux, of all people, should know what broken promises from ownership can do to hockey superstars.

They can make the superstars want to leave.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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