The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the most successful franchises in the NHL for the past decade, winning three Stanley Cups and making the playoffs every year since 2007. However, after a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the New York Islanders this season, many fans and analysts are wondering what the future holds for the team.
The Penguins have an aging core of star players, led by Sidney Crosby (34), Evgeni Malkin (35), and Kris Letang (34), who are all under contract until 2025. While they are still elite performers, they are also prone to injuries and may decline in the next few years.
The team also has a lack of depth and young talent, as they have traded away many draft picks and prospects in recent years to acquire veterans and rentals. The Penguins have only one first-round pick in the next three drafts, and their farm system is ranked among the worst in the league by most experts.
The Penguins also have a new management team, as Ron Hextall replaced Jim Rutherford as general manager and Brian Burke joined as president of hockey operations in February. Hextall and Burke have different philosophies than Rutherford, who was known for his aggressive and impulsive moves. Hextall and Burke have stated that they want to build a more balanced and sustainable roster, while also keeping the window open for Crosby and company to compete for another Cup.
So what does this mean for the Penguins’ future? Will they try to retool or rebuild? Will they trade away some of their core players or keep them until they retire? Will they make any big moves this offseason or stay patient? These are some of the questions that I will try to answer in this blog post, based on my analysis of the team’s situation and the opinions of various experts and insiders.
First of all, let’s look at the Penguins’ cap situation. According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins have about $75 million committed to 18 players for next season, which leaves them with about $7 million in cap space under the projected $82 million ceiling.
However, this does not include some of their pending free agents, such as Jared McCann (RFA), Zach Aston-Reese (RFA), Cody Ceci (UFA), Evan Rodrigues (UFA), and Frederik Gaudreau (UFA). The Penguins will have to decide which of these players they want to re-sign and how much they are willing to pay them. They may also have to deal with some arbitration cases or offer sheets from other teams.
The Penguins also have to prepare for the expansion draft, which will take place on July 21. The Penguins will have to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie.
Assuming they go with the former option, they will likely protect Crosby, Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Zucker, and Brandon Tanev up front; Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Mike Matheson on defense; and Tristan Jarry in net.
This means that they will expose players like McCann (if re-signed), Teddy Blueger, Jeff Carter (who has a no-trade clause but may waive it), Marcus Pettersson, John Marino, Casey DeSmith, and others. The Penguins may lose one of these players to the Seattle Kraken or try to make a side deal with them to influence their selection.
The Penguins may also look to make some trades this offseason to improve their roster or free up some cap space. Some of the players that have been mentioned in trade rumors or speculation include Zucker, Pettersson, Marino, Carter, Tanev, and even Malkin or Letang.
The Penguins may try to acquire a younger goalie to challenge or replace Jarry, who struggled in the playoffs; a top-four defenseman to solidify their blue line; or a top-six winger to add some scoring punch.
However, they may not have many assets to offer in return, as they lack draft picks and prospects. They may also face some challenges with no-trade clauses or limited trade markets for some of their players.
The Penguins may also explore the free agent market this summer, although they may not have much cap space or flexibility to do so. Some of the potential targets that could fit their needs include Philipp Grubauer (G), Dougie Hamilton (D), David Savard (D), Blake Coleman (F), Kyle Palmieri (F), Nick Foligno (F), Brandon Saad (F), and others. However, these players may command high salaries or long-term deals that the Penguins may not be able to afford or offer.
Final Thoughts: The Pittsburgh Penguins Face a Challenging Future
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of work to do this offseason to address the challenges they face in terms of their aging core, lack of depth and young talent, and cap constraints. While they still have some elite performers in Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, they cannot rely on them to carry the team forever, especially given their injury history and declining production.
The Penguins need to find a way to build a more balanced and sustainable roster that can compete in the long term, while also keeping the window open for their veteran stars to make another Cup run.
To do this, the Penguins will need to make some tough decisions on their pending free agents, expansion draft protection, and potential trades or free agent signings.
They may have to let some of their role players go, expose some of their promising prospects to the Kraken, or part ways with some of their core players who may still have some trade value. They may also have to be creative in finding ways to acquire new talent, such as making some shrewd trades or signing some affordable free agents.
Overall, the Penguins face a challenging future, but they also have some reasons for optimism. They have a new management team that seems committed to a more patient and sustainable approach, and they still have some talented players and a winning culture.
If they can make the right moves this offseason and beyond, they may be able to extend their playoff streak and add another Cup to their impressive resume. However, if they fail to address their weaknesses and continue to rely too heavily on their aging stars, they may find themselves on the outside looking in sooner rather than later.