The Pittsburgh Penguins have had issues in the playoffs and that lead to radical change last offseason. I personally believe that this change doomed the Penguins before the season ever started, but has their championship window closed?
Most fans are frustrated and simply do not know what to do. The Penguins’ games felt scripted this season, there was no fight from the team and once they fell behind, it was almost a guaranteed loss.
If you poll the fan base and ask if the Pens championship “window” is closed, the overwhelming majority of them would say it has. However, this is merely the attitude that exists in Pittsburgh.
There are major roadblocks to the Penguins winning again that are in place, but the window is far from closed. As long as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury are on the team, the window is wide open.
Now this isn’t to say that some of these players (Crosby and Malkin) aren’t part of the mentioned roadblocks, but that their talent keeps the Penguins competitive despite the poor circumstances.
Haven’t injuries prevented contending?
The Penguins core members, which for all intensts and purposes includes Kris Letang, have a reputation of being “injury-prone” but the reality is that there is no such thing in sports. It all comes down to the luck of the player and their body’s strength.
Many Penguins fans will point and say that Crosby, Malkin and Letang have not been healthy enough to compete for the Stanley Cup. Here are the facts:
Since winning the Stanley Cup the Penguins have played 458 regular season games, Crosby has played in 337 (73.6%), Malkin participated in 345 (75.3%) and Letang has appeared in 347 (75.8%).
During that same time frame the Pens have appeared in 59 playoff contests, Crosby has participated in 51 (86.4%), Malkin was in 52 (88.1%) and Letang played in 54 (91.5%).
Sure those are just considering games played and during many of those the core played through injuries, but are injuries a viable excuse?
The old phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is why the Penguins have not had postseason success. Yes, they have exceptional players on the roster, but they’re not surrounding them with a deep team.
Blame falls on management
The truth is that with their star players participating in over 70% of regular season contests, it makes sense they have continued their playoff streak.
Crosby, Malkin and Letang in over half of the possible amount of games is good enough to get a team into the playoffs, and that’s where Pittsburgh has been in stuck.
They’re consistently good enough to make the playoffs, but not any further. The blame falls on the Penguins management, past and present. Ray Shero never found the right players to compliment his core and Jim Rutherford has not done any better.
Quoting Herb Brooks’ character in the movie Miracle:
“I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.”
There is no other way to say it, Pittsburgh’s management has not found the “right” players and the blame falls on the general manager. Now this isn’t to say that Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Letang are free from criticism because they all earn big paychecks and have not lived up to expectations quite frequently.
The window is wide open
It all goes back to the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, they cannot solely be held accountable.
If the Penguins expect to win a Stanley Cup off the backs’ of those four alone, it will not happen.
The team that won the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup won it because they had a complete team. Having a complete team allows players like Crosby, Malkin and Letang to play their best because they opposing team cannot just shut down them.
The Penguins Stanley Cup window remains wide open as long as their core players remain on the roster, but there are obstacles to overcome. One of them is now the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and he might prevent the team from winning again.
It all stems from the team that is built by management and they have not done a good job. The Penguins have a tendency to get caught up with big name players and focus on trying to get the best players, when they should be focusing on getting the right players.
Later i’ll be discussing in more depth players that the Penguins need to acquire if they want to contend again, but for now take a look at Ryan Wilson is doing over at Hockey Buzz.
The Penguins still have a chance to turn around the franchise, but it starts with putting the right team together and not necessarily the “best” team.
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers