The Pittsburgh Penguins managed to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the ninth consecutive season. It took them until the very last game of the season to secure a playoff berth and first-year general manager Jim Rutherford’s tenure has been controversial.
Let’s dive into how Rutherford performed throughout the year, concluding with the outlook of the franchise.
The Unfortunate Truth
The worst part about the Penguins’ first season under Rutherford is that the organization has regressed. Management failed in executing trades, they botched the salary cap situation and have put a damper on what could have been a bright future.
Rutherford was not awful with his free-agent signings, but his trades were deplorable and this is where the Penguins will be hurt the most.
Trading Simon Despres to Anaheim made no sense, acquiring Daniel Winnik was ridiculous, considering they could have signed him as a free agent last summer, and there is a consistent theme of failing to maximize value.
The bottom line is that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury cannot play forever. They’re all aging, and who knows how much longer Letang will be able to continue playing.
Take a look at the Stanley Cup champions since the Penguins victory in 2009: Chicago (2010), Boston (2011), Los Angeles (2012), Chicago (2013), Los Angeles (2014) and now it will be either Tampa Bay or Chicago in 2015.
What’s the common theme?
Each of these teams were centered around a young core of players. Chicago has Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Los Angeles has Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, while Boston had Tyler Seguin and David Krejci.*
*Obviously there were more stars on each team but it’s the concept behind the youth
Kane and Toews might be hoisting their third Stanley Cup before they are even 28-years old.
Youth wins Stanley Cups, there’s no way around it. You have to have young, hungry and driven players who truly believe that they can win.
Do Crosby and Malkin actually believe they can still win? I’d argue that Crosby looked as determined as he’s ever been in the playoff series against the New York Rangers, but was visibly frustrated with the team.
What about Malkin? Frankly, he did not look motivated while playing the Rangers.
I know he was playing through an injury, but somehow he played in the World Championships just a few weeks later and produced 10 points (five goals, five assists) in nine games. Those numbers placed him 14th in scoring in the tournament and, from all reports, he still was playing through the ankle injury.
Pittsburgh’s Championship Window
The Penguins can easily win more Stanley Cups with their current core, but the window is closing and not for the reason you think. The Penguins’ championship window is starting to close because management continues to fail the players, not the other way around.
Annually, the star talent on the roster is good enough to make the playoffs, but not much more. Pittsburgh can easily win the Cup with their core players starting to hit 30-years old, but they need young talent to aid the stars.
Who does the Penguins have in the pipeline behind them? Not much, and that’s because of aggressive trading and poor drafting.
Just take a look:
the NHL draft is a really, really funny thing. especially when you look at comparable picks like this pic.twitter.com/8wG9ivwqKP
— Mike Darnay (@MikeDarnay) May 30, 2015
It’s not that Pittsburgh hasn’t had the opportunity to draft talented young players, look at what Tampa has done with similar selections.
Would you rather have Scott Harrington or Nikita Kucherov on your roster? There’s absolutely no comparison.
Then you can look at what happened with Brandon Saad and begin to lose faith. Former GM Ray Shero told Saad’s father that if his son was on the draft board, that he would be “their guy.”
Shero did not select Saad. Instead, he took Joe Morrow, who has been a bust and was quickly traded.
What To Expect Moving Forward
The worst part of everything that’s happened is that it does not look to get any better. I have almost no faith in Rutherford’s ability to build a competitive team.
The next four years will likely determine what the legacy of the Crosby/Malkin era will be. As of now, this group of Penguins will be remembered for high expectations and continual disappointments.
It’s quite possible that the Penguins’ management (and ownership) will have wasted the careers of, arguably, some of the best players in NHL history.