Saturday, June 09, 2018

Penguins aren't planning for future, but present looks bright

By Mark Madden
June 8, 2018

Image result for crosby malkin

With a few exceptions, the Penguins' main core is 30-something.
It's about time to re-load.
But the Penguins won't. Not like they would if they hadn't won Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and '17 (or even in just one of those years).
If not for that optimum circumstance, chances are good the Penguins would be trying to trade Evgeni Malkin, with the return generated helping to lay a big portion of groundwork for the future.
But, given what's happened, Malkin is untouchable. (Also, owner Mario Lemieux never wants to repeat the Jaromir Jagr trade of 2001.)
Sidney Crosby was always going to be untouchable given his status as hockey's best player and (more important) the guy that sells all the tickets.
Matt Murray will not be traded. Kris Letang will almost certainly stay. Phil Kessel may depart, but probably not. GM Jim Rutherford didn't sign Patric Hornqvist through 2023 just so he could immediately trade him.
The Penguins figure to mostly keep the current core together and let it take a run at another Stanley Cup title by way of a lifetime achievement award. Not because it's the right thing for the franchise's long-term interest. It's not.
Then again, occasionally finishing last has served the Penguins well.
When Murray nears 30 (hitting his theoretical prime), he will be counted on to keep the Penguins respectable after the stars retire.
Or he might get traded.
Finish middle, draft middle, stay middle: just ask the Philadelphia Flyers.
But currently, the window is open.
Everything will be done to serve right now. That's easier to pursue with two Cup championships still visible in the rear-view mirror because Rutherford knows this combination (or some semblance) can achieve.
One thing the Penguins may lack is the shot of adrenaline from young players that served them so well in the last two Cup runs.
In 2016 it was Tom Kuhnhackl, Murray, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust. In 2017, it was Jake Guentzel and Scott Wilson.
But during this postseason, Zach Aston-Reese made little impact beyond what sadly incurred with Washington's Tom Wilson. Dominik Simon was wretched.
The Penguins haven't had a first-round draft pick since 2014 (Kasperi Kapanen, traded to Toronto in the Kessel deal). Their first-round picks from 2009-11 washed out and departed: Simon Despres, Beau Bennett and Joe Morrow. Derrick Pouliot (2012) also stiffed and got dealt.
Olli Maatta (also in 2012) is the only first-round pick of significance made by the Penguins since Jordan Staal in 2006.
That's no criticism. When you finish high, you draft late. When immediate opportunity beckons, you trade first-round picks.
For whatever reason, the pipeline isn't spitting out impact prospects.
Right wing Daniel Sprong was a second-round pick in 2015. Rutherford says he'll be a regular in 2018-19. He said that about Pouliot before this past season. Right before Pouliot got traded. Coach Mike Sullivan is not a Sprong fan, so Sprong's role for next season is far from assured.
It's an interesting summer. Rutherford paints in broad strokes, so the possibility of a big deal can't be dismissed.
Rust's rights could be traded because of the glut at right wing. (Rust is a restricted free agent.) Maatta might be dealt if Rutherford wants to shake up the Penguins' defensive corps.
Given Washington's success after beating the Penguins, perhaps being eliminated by the Capitals isn't the embarrassment some made out.
Matt Murray had a 2.66 goals-against average in the second-round series vs. Washington. That's better than any other goalie did against the Capitals in these playoffs, including Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury (4.10). That debate has certainly been walked back.
Evgeny Kuznetsov had 32 points on the postseason. His low output for a series was six against the Penguins.
The Penguins were close and still are.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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