The Pittsburgh Penguins are starting the season behind the eight ball. The team has already been hit with injuries as the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both out, and now COVID-19 has shown it’s ugly face. A team that notoriously starts slow is going to be under the microscope early on in 2021-22. If the Penguins struggle to start this season, expect to see some blockbuster changes to the roster.
Yes, it’s the same ol’ debate for Penguins fans, but the reality is both Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang don’t have contracts for next season. Crosby, on the other hand, is signed for four more seasons and, of the three players, 100% surely won’t ever be traded. The same can’t be said for Malkin and Letang and the reality of them leaving town is closer now than it’s ever been.
Penguins’ Management May Have No Choice
Throughout this whole process since Ron Hextall and Brian Burke have taken over, they have done a tremendous job to dance around the topic. They’ve said all the right things and try to calm the nerves of Penguins fans who are worried about having two of their franchise greats traded away. I spoke about this and more during an article focusing on Hextall keeping the core together.
Expectations and reality aren’t always the same thing. While Hextall has stated he would love to have them back next season, he’s not going to say he doesn’t. Hextall was recently quoted at training camp saying there’s been some discussions, but at this point nothing to report. So, it’s a great sign for loyal Penguins fans that they are talking, but there’s also a chance the deals don’t get done.
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The Penguins’ farm system is one of the weaker in the NHL, and with an aging core — both Malkin and Letang being 35 and 34, respectively — moving one or both would certainly benefit the future of the team. Letang would fetch at least one top prospect and a first-round pick, meanwhile Malkin’s return would be huge, including young roster players and draft picks. The asking price should be astronomical and Hextall should do his due diligence and listen in to the trade chatter if the Penguins can’t get over their injuries this season.
Lots Riding on Penguins’ Netminder Tristan Jarry
With some big names out of the lineup and a ton of pressure mounted from last postseason, Pittsburgh needs the very best out of Tristan Jarry. The 26-year-old netminder can’t get off to a slow start this season. He needs to show that he’s moved on from his terrible performance last Stanley Cup Playoffs and that he’s learned from it, developed and most importantly improved.
His .888 save percentage against the New York Islanders in the first round last postseason is still looming heavily. Jarry’s said all the right things about his game and his confidence, and so have his teammates and coaching staff. Now it’s time to put up or shut up, and the Penguins’ netminder can’t way to get his chance come opening night to move on from last season.
While his playoff performance wasn’t ideal, you can’t forget Jarry finished his regular season with a career-high 25 wins, and with a full 82-game schedule in 2021-22, he should be able to surpass this number. Regardless of how it finishes, it’s how it’s starting that’s the biggest thing here. The Penguins need Jarry to be rock solid in October and November and not allow his team to slip out of the playoff picture in the early going. You can’t win the Stanley Cup in November, but you can certainly put yourself out of contention.
Other Teams Paying Close Attention to Penguins’ Success
Make no mistake about it, general managers around the league know the situation that Hextall and Burke are dealing with in Pittsburgh. You can bet your bottom dollar teams would love to get their hands on a healthy Letang and Malkin. They are proven winners who instantly change the makeup of a team. Everything as I have repeated comes down to the success of the Penguins, and if they are winning games, expect to see them stay and signed, but if the team can’t find its game to put up two points on a regular basis, the trade noise is going to amplify.
If it was up to me, I would be locking up Letang and Malkin to cover Crosby’s contract and have all three of them retire together in Pittsburgh. It would be one of the best endings possible to story-book careers. Unfortunately for Penguins fans, I don’t have anything to do with it. So all I can say is this, keep an eye on the Penguins during the first couple of months this season. Their success or failure for that matter, could have a lasting impact on the future of the franchise.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween