No one ever wants to admit that the end is near, let alone here. Especially when there are signs that it’s still a long way off if you know where to look. The day will come when the Pittsburgh Penguins will take a backseat – something they haven’t really done since the turn of the century. The question is, when will the Penguins themselves face this reality. Cold November rain and all…
This hasn’t been the season the Pens and GM Kyle Dubas had envisioned, at least not in the overall standings, when they traded for Erik Karlsson in a sort of „last hurrah“ that brought all the chips in. The Pens sit in fourth place in the wildcard standings, trailing the Flyers by five points with 36 games remaining. It may not sound like much, but in Gary Betman’s ranking system, where everyone gets a trophy, with three-point games sprinkled everywhere, it’s uphill.
The Penguins have two options. Neither is ideal. A „soft“ rebuild isn’t an option. In two or three years, Crosby, Malkin, and Letang will be at least 40 years old and almost certainly not the players anchoring a contender. However, with Crosby, you can never be entirely sure. When the Penguins get there, it’s over. Time for a new era. Straight into the dirt, no matter how long it takes to resurface. Even trying to reload two years later is like trying to build a castle in the sand. It won’t work for them, brother.
Can the Pens go all-in? The answer isn’t clear. Acquiring Bryan Rust for four more seasons at $5 million per year is a tough sell. Rickard Rakell has had bad luck with shooting this season, making his similar contract look worse than it could be. And of course, Graves‘ deal reaches the suction power of a sinking ocean liner. To lose one of these deals to a tanking team like the Sharks or Hawks, they would need to attach something they need to win. The Pens don’t have a first-round pick in the 2024 draft, nor a second-round pick in the 2025 draft. The potential pool is hardly large. They can’t pursue the double way of unloading one or two contracts and use that cap space to add. They don’t have enough.
Similarly to the Golden State Warriors, the Pens probably can’t tear it down and start over as long as Crosby is there (and Karlsson is pretty much certain). No one wants to watch Crosby lead a team full of unknowns while focusing on the next draft or the next stat lines from the Canadian backwater or NCAA. Nobody will tolerate that.
If Dubas is the analytics geek we’ve always been sold, he will rely on the underlying numbers saying the Pens are a small streak of luck and a hot phase away from carrying them into the postseason (and if he’s the wrestling geek everyone says will book Kazuchika Okada’s appearance in AEW). Whatever they may say, there’s likely no other way.