When Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang made their NHL debuts for the Pittsburgh Penguins early within the 2006-07 season, becoming a member of a second-year Sidney Crosby, it ushered in a brand new period of hockey for the franchise.
That period, even in its infancy, carried huge expectations for each the crew and the person gamers.
They weren’t simply purported to be good. They have been purported to be nice. Crosby was purported to be The Subsequent One. Malkin was purported to be a famous person of his personal. Letang, in addition to latest high picks Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal, have been purported to the inspiration of a championship supporting solid.
Given how excessive the expectations have been it appeared virtually unattainable for all of them to be reached. They not solely met them, they might have exceeded them.
For the reason that begin of the 2006-07 season, when Malkin and Letang joined Crosby, the Penguins have objectively been essentially the most profitable franchise within the sport. No crew has gained extra common season video games (728), extra playoff video games (103), scored extra objectives (3,879) appeared in additional Stanley Cup Finals (4), or gained extra championships (three; Chicago did match that, however no one has exceeded it).
Individually, Crosby and Malkin have been two of the most efficient and greatest gamers within the league, combining for 4 scoring titles, three MVP awards, three Conn Smythe trophies, and two Rocket Richard awards. For 16 years they’ve principally been unmatched.
It appears totally attainable that the period got here to a detailed on Sunday night time with their Sport 7 loss to the New York Rangers.
The Penguins, on high of the NHL for thus lengthy, now discover themselves at a crossroads. They’ve misplaced within the First Spherical of the playoffs in 4 consecutive years and now misplaced 5 consecutive playoff collection going again to the 2018 postseason. Sure, they might have performed properly sufficient to win the previous two collection over the previous two years, however they did not. And sufficient flaws began to reveal themselves to forestall it.
They now enter an offseason the place Malkin, Letang, Bryan Rust (one other two-time Stanley Cup champion), Evan Rodrigues, and Rickard Rakell are unrestricted free brokers and a reasonably new entrance workplace (with a brand new possession group) has to determine what course to take them in.
Not everyone goes to be again (the wage cap alone will forestall that, not even entering into choice making) and it’s a on condition that this roster goes to look dramatically completely different subsequent season.
• By way of the potential free brokers, essentially the most damaging loss could be one hundred pc Letang. He’s nonetheless an elite participant on the blue line and by far their greatest participant there. There isn’t a alternative for him on the roster or in free company, and due to that, he ought to take precedence. However that won’t be simple. He’s going to be extremely wanted and will most likely choose his vacation spot and price ticket (Montreal?). Shedding him could be by far essentially the most devastating blow to the present roster. You could find one other no. 2 centres. You may substitute a second-line winger. There should not many No. 1 defenseman floating round on the market for the taking.
• Malkin looks as if he could be the most definitely to return given his relationship with Crosby and their need to complete their careers collectively. Plus I’m not certain there’s a logical vacation spot for him elsewhere within the league. Of the 2 he’s the one which has slowed down essentially the most and has essentially the most questions within the quick time period, and there should not many groups with the wage cap house to signal him for his market price. The query is how good is he nonetheless, and what kind of influence can he nonetheless make?
• Rust has developed into an impressive two-way participant, however his price ticket might be going to be important given the way in which he has performed and produced lately and he could be out of his thoughts to not see what that might flip into on the open market. That can also be a contract the Penguins wish to shrink back from, even when he’s nonetheless may actually good proper now.
• Rodrigues was an enormous shock this season and could be a nice participant to deliver again as a jack-of-all-trades. Rakell at all times appeared like a pure rental, however he, Crosby, and Guentzel had sensational chemistry of their restricted ice-time.
[Conn Smythe watch: McDavid, Makar lead after First Round]
Past the free brokers there are different massive choices to make. Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen are RFA’s, however neither appear a given to get a qualifying provide. Brian Dumoulin took an enormous step backwards this season and by no means seemed proper and is getting into the ultimate yr of his contract. between him John Marino, Marcus Pettersson, and Mike Matheson they’ve a quartet of defenders every counting greater than $4 million towards the wage cap. Do they appear to clear a few of these out and create extra wage cap flexibility?
The largest query, although, might be extra of a philosophical query than something associated to any particular person gamers or contracts.
Can this crew nonetheless compete with the potential adjustments they’re going through, or is it time to start out a rebuild?
That query is troublesome to reply as a result of the crew as presently constructed has undoubtedly plateaued, and you cannot conceal from the latest playoff outcomes. They undoubtedly performed properly sufficient to advance in every of the previous two seasons, however 4 first spherical losses in a row is what it’s.
However Crosby is just not slowing down, and so long as he’s enjoying the way in which he’s there’s nonetheless motive to consider you could be a playoff crew. Jake Guentzel can also be an impressive participant on the wing (probably the greatest within the league) and there’s motive to consider that Tristan Jarry will be an above common starter in purpose.
On high of that, additionally they have a top-tier coach and the entire of its defensive play was far better than the sum of its components all season. The three blown leads in Video games 5-7 of the playoffs are regarding and never a very good look, however by each goal measure this was a playoff-caliber defensive crew all season. They’re additionally getting into an offseason the place they’ve some wage cap house to play with (and might create much more if they’ll transfer out a contract) in an offseason the place there are a number of intriguing free brokers.
So long as Crosby and Guentzel are enjoying at their degree you do not need to tug the plug on that and never attempt to give them an opportunity.
This period is unquestionably coming to a detailed, and subsequent yr’s roster is definitely going to look very, very completely different. We simply have no idea precisely how completely different, and what Ron Hextall and Brian Burke consider their probabilities with these pending adjustments. Is it re-tool time, or full-blown rebuild? We are going to discover out within the subsequent few weeks and months.
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Adam Gretz is a author for Professional Hockey Discuss on NBC Sports activities. Drop him a line at [email protected] or observe him on Twitter @AGretz.