The chips are really falling in the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ favor right now, only one year after their first playoff miss in nearly 20 years. They managed to entice Kyle Dubas, one of the brightest young executives in hockey to join their staff. They’ve re-defined their entire bottom six after abysmal performances last season. They’ve committed to both their head coach and their No. 1 goaltender, eliminating any doubts that were present about those two players. They’ve also begun a rebuild of PPG Paints Arena, meaning the new look team will have a new look home as well.
After a season that was arguably the most disappointing of the Sidney Crosby era, the Penguins are in a prime position to make this season better than the last in a truly all-encompassing manner.
On The Ice
For a long time now, the Penguins have been a great hockey club. Since Crosby arrived, they’ve won three Stanley Cups, captured four division titles, and have enjoyed having one of the most dominant roster cores in NHL history. Crosby was even included on the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players of All Time list during the league’s centennial celebration in 2016-17. From 2006-07 until 2022-23, the Penguins made the playoffs each season, achieving the longest active postseason streak in North American professional sports. Based on the moves they made this offseason, the failure to qualify for the 2022-23 postseason was an anomaly.
The comparative failure that was 2022-23 can be traced back to many different things intersecting at the same time. Former general manager Ron Hextall’s series of questionable moves meant the season got off to a strange start. The Penguins were tied up in salary cap purgatory for much of the season and came in at $80,000 below the cap ceiling, mainly due to the massive contracts they handed out to Rickard Rakell, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang which totaled nearly $17 million in average annual value.
The issues plaguing the Penguins extended beyond the executive sphere, as coach Mike Sullivan’s ability began to be called into question. His traditional “boy’s club” mentality became a detriment to the team’s development, as he continued to grant playing time to underperforming veterans like Jeff Carter whose 2022-23 season was rated one of the worst of his career. He tallied 16 goals the entire season and went long stretches without recording any points. Yet, Sullivan chose to slot him in at each opportunity. His critical miscue in a late-season game against the New York Islanders was the tip of the iceberg, as Sullivan continued to treat him as though he was still the player who won two championships with the Los Angeles Kings.
As a result, Dubas and company began revamping the entire roster with a special focus on the bottom six. The Penguins still had the star power they’ve always had, and despite the fact that Crosby, Malkin, and Letang are aging, each is still performing at a high level, especially the captain. Depth was the priority for this management group as they attempted to solve last season’s forward carousel as well as find a place for Carter and others by signing depth forwards like Vinny Hinostroza, Lars Eller, and Noel Acciari. Reilly Smith was brought in from the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights to shore up the top six as well, meaning some of the pressure will be taken off Carter and he can return to a role that is more suited to the player he has become.
In The Stands
The Penguins have played at PPG Paints Arena for 12 years, and the team has begun a series of renovations designed to improve fan experience. Through a partnership with Casamigos, construction is underway on the “Casamigos Club” as part of the broader $30 million renovations. The club seating will be an all-inclusive experience, with the price of food, drinks, and tickets for a single price, an arena feature that will extend beyond hockey. The new section has dimensions of 4,000 square feet and is made up entirely of previously unused arena space on the event level. With enough space for 300 season ticket holders, it will provide a new view of Penguins’ games and serve as a complement to the arena’s star attraction (from ‘Penguins introduce Casamigos-branded all-inclusive space’, Alex Silverman, Sports Business Journal, 5/22/23).
The main draw and the cash cow of the new-look arena is the updated scoreboard. According to the renderings, it will be a 55 by 33-foot monstrosity designed in the style of those already in use at the SAP Center in San Jose and at UBS Arena on Long Island.
Penguins’ president of business operations Kevin Acklin has already boasted about what the renovations will bring to the arena and the city as a whole:
“We are committed to maintaining PPG Paints Arena as a world-class destination not only for Penguins hockey, but for concerts and marquee events. We are investing millions to replace our entire in-game entertainment technology, as well as building exciting new premium spaces, to offer immersive experiences for our fans and guests that will be truly unique to our Pittsburgh market.”Penguins’ President of Business Operations Kevin Acklin on the advantages the renovations will give PPG Paints Arena.
After the most difficult season for the organization in recent memory, the new owners at Fenway Sports Group have pulled out all the stops to bring success back to the Penguins. Dubas and his moves, coupled with the new arena upgrades, have the Pens poised for a true all-around comeback in 2023-24.