Are the Penguins a Team in Transition? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Are the Penguins a Team in Transition?

Transition is defined by Merriman-Webster as a “passage from one state, stage, subject or place to another.” In a word, change.

The times definitely are a changin’ for our Pittsburgh Penguins. Indeed, just as the natural seasons go through cycles, so do the fortunes of sports teams. Even the mightiest of champions aren’t immune to the ravages of time and attrition.

Looking back to the summer of 2016, the Pens lost only three players—Beau Bennett, Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff—who appeared in the postseason. Of the three, only Lovejoy played a significant role in our Cup triumph.

That contrasts sharply with this past off-season, when no fewer than six important contributors left town. Indeed, the departures of Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz created some sizeable holes, both on the ice and in the locker room.

It isn’t that Jim Rutherford didn’t recognize their value, collectively and individually. But the plucky GM only had so many dollars to spend. He had to budget for restricted free agents Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary, which left cap space to bring back one, maybe two, of his pending free agents.

It hardly was a surprise when each landed elsewhere.

The Chicago Blackhawks, who served as a model for the black and gold, experienced similar turnover following their most recent Cup triumph in 2015. Eight key players, including Brad Richards, Patrick Sharp and Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad, departed through free agency, retirement or trades.

Not surprisingly, the Blackhawks didn’t repeat as champions. While the Pens cruised to their first of back-to-back Cups, Chicago was eliminated in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. The Hawks bowed in similarly inglorious fashion last spring, losing four straight to our eventual Final foe, Nashville.

Where am I heading with this? As much as I’d love for our Pens to three-peat, it’s highly unlikely they will. As with those Hawks teams, there simply are too many gaps to plug, too many new players to assimilate, each trying to find his niche and comfort level. It takes time to develop chemistry and bond as a team. As witnessed by last week’s disastrous 10-1 loss to the Hawks, we have a long ways to go.

Does that mean all hope is gone for winning another Cup? Not at all. The Pens still possess the most talented core in the game. Including this season, Sidney Crosby is under contract for seven more years…Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang five years apiece. With promising kids like Jake Guentzel, Matt Murray and Daniel Sprong in tow, the immediate future bodes well.

Still, for reasons already stated and more, I don’t think we’ll be hoisting another Cup this spring. If anything, this season may serve as a reminder that laying claim to Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice is a rare and elusive feat, one that should be celebrated, cherished and never, ever taken for granted.

Just ask a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. When the Penguins entered the league back in 1967, the Leafs were a power, having won four Cups in six seasons. Could anyone living in “The Queen City” at the time have envisioned their beloved Leafs going 50 years without so much as a return to the Final?

Closer to home, if you were a Pens fan back in 1992, cheering on Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and a cavalcade of All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers, would you have imagined the depths to which the team sank in the early 2000s, let alone a 17-year drought between Cups?

Of course not. At the time, it felt like we would win Stanley Cups forever.

Unfortunately, the Cup isn’t a forever thing. It’s earned, each and every season, by the team best able to endure the most intense sports challenge ever devised, an arduous 82-game schedule topped by a grueling race through four best-of-seven rounds to 24 wins. A trial by fire, featuring every type of hardship and tribulation imaginable, pushing each and every participant to his absolute limit…and beyond. Survival of the fittest in every conceivable way.

Against all odds, our Pens passed that test two years running. To do it a third time may be asking too much.

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  1. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    October 12, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    I’ll tell you what I’m not looking forward to. Facing Chris Kunitz tonight.

    I’ve always had the utmost admiration for him. Talk about a warrior. Kuny always played the same way. Hard, in-your-face.

    According to an article by Sam Werner on the PG, the Pens didn’t make him an offer last summer. I was under the mistaken impression that he left town by choice. Not that I necessarily blame JR, given how many young forwards we have. But the last thing I want is to face a motivated Kunitz with perhaps a little bit of an ax to grind.

    Old friend or not, our guys had better buckle their chinstraps and keep their heads up.


  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 12, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick and 55 on Point,

    Seems our discussion about Niemi is moot; according NHL.com Murray is getting the nod tonight.

  3. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    October 12, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Hey all,

    I sure have great timing…NOT. I write an elaborate piece about the Pens not attaining a three-peat, and they promptly go out and play their best game of the season.

    Hope they continue to prove me wrong … right on through June … 🙂

    Changing the subject, Phil’s comments from the other day, plus his great photo of Fleury and Murray got me thinking. I wonder if we let Flower go at precisely the point of his career where he’s finally reached his full potential. The ability has always been there. But the mental aspect of his game seems to have ripened as well. He’s been incredible for the Golden Knights so far.

    In my mind, we had to do what we did. Murray just has too much promise, and we couldn’t keep both goalies. But I have a feeling that Flower’s got some terrific years ahead.


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 12, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick,

      Just a thought, but how much of last nights game was due to Hornqvist back in the line-up?

      Also, before we get too excited and declare the Pens 100% back to last season’s form, let’s consider that at even strength the Pens lost 0-2 in the scoring department; their 3 goals were PPGs. Also, other disturbing facts as the Pens get ready for the back-end of their back-to-back games, Reaves only played 6:35, Kuhnhackl on played 7:38 and Crosby played 20:31 to get that win. I really don’t think this team will be in any shape for a long Play-off run burning Crosby up like that because they don’t play that 4th line enough.

      Kuhnhackl is very deserving of more PT and although I am still ambivalent about Reaves, his Preds game should have earned him more TOI as well.

      I am very worried about tonight because of ice time decisions. The thread I hold on to though is that our Pens seem to thrive under the gun. They seem to get better the higher the pressure against them.

      Go Pens!

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        October 12, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I hear ya, Other Rick.

        I made it a point to watch Reaves the few times he hit the ice. As much as I’m pulling for him and want him to succeed, he once again struggled to keep pace. He also had a glaring giveaway near the side of our net that led to a prolonged Caps cycle and some prime scoring chances.

        No wonder Sully’s reluctant to use him too much.

        I watched McKegg, too. I like his hustle, and he made some things happen in the offensive zone, but he also blew a couple of assignments in the d-zone. Definitely a stop gap.

        On the flip side, I agree 100% about Hornqvist and Kuhnhackl. Love the former’s grit, and I, too, think the latter deserves more minutes. I was also very pleased with Rowney. Sometimes he plays it a little too safe (understandable, given his role). But when he skates and asserts himself, he can be a highly effective player.

        Addressing your concerns about tonight’s game, I’m guessing Niemi’s going to start. Even though you could hardly fault him for the Chicago debacle, I’ll admit I’ve got some reservations. Hope he steadies himself, because we’re sure going to need him with all those back-to-backs.


        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          October 12, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          Hey Rick,

          I hear ya about Rowney, Sometimes he is a bit tentative, but when he does go into attack mode he really pressures the other team and has even had some good looks at the net at times. I know I have harped on it in the passed, but I really liked the way he, Wilson, and Archibald looked as a line last year down the stretch run. They seemed to bring out the best in each other.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 12, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Sorry Rick,

      I meant to add this on your MAF comments;

      I have admitted that I was not an MAF early in his career, but over the last 4 years in Pittsburgh, I do think he really matured. You may be right, MAF may finally have married his physical and mental games, and as a Johnny come lately fan of our Pens former last line of defense, I am hoping that he has come into his own.

      Unfortunately, the Pens had to make a hard decision over which goalie that had to lose. I do think they made the right decision over which one to cede, especially considering Cap issues (They would be $2+ over the Cap right now instead of $3+ under). My biggest complaint about his departure though still circles around a major gaffe of JRs in paying Vegas a draft pick for what could amount to be the best player they drafted. JR has made some slick moves in his time here, but that was not one of them. In fact, I think he made several of them that either came to fruition (failing to resign Bonino after the 1st Cup) or were perpetrated this off season. Hopefully, some of his other moves (PEdan, Tinordi, or Trotman) and maybe a future move can cancel out the mistakes; he does seem to have a knack of coming up with a rabbit out of the hat.

    • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
      October 12, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Hi Rick,

      I think teams are always in some sort of transition, be it personnel changes, injuries, rule changes, or the result of the transitions of other teams. A good team/organization does everything it can to stay ahead of the curve and we are fortunate to have a good organization guiding this team.

      While, at this point, I think getting that third in a row is an insurmountable task, I’m not discounting the possibility. I also think the schedule has been tilted away from the Pens to bolster the challenge. But, if they stay hungry and healthy they have as good a shot as anyone. They will need lots of things to go right, and especially solid goal tending. Niemi will have to bring it. The back ups, whoever they might be, will have to pitch in at least 15 wins, and hopefully more.

      Good game last night. You’re correct in saying it was their best game so far. It was good to see Hunwick have a good game, too. I finally heard his name spoken by announcers, while the game was going on! 😉 He made several heads up plays. Maybe he will find his place.

      I liked the changes on the power play, too, the mixing it up a bit with Hornqvist and Kuhnhackl on the same unit. I love ugly goals! By players who thrive in the ugly goal zone.

      I also like that they have given me my wish to get in puck carriers’ faces — team D. It’s made a big difference in the last two games. Washington still got some good looks but not near as many as they would have liked, and we didn’t spend more than half the game stuck in our own end.

      I also laughed at Milbury saying the Pens “kicked the Caps out of the playoffs the past two years.” Yeah, Mike, the Caps have been kicked out of the playoffs by the Pens their whole life.

      — 55

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        October 12, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        You are on point 55,

        To stay on top teams really do have to continually evolve and change, change is the only constant, if for no other reason than players get older each year and for those on the upper side of age that usually means at least diminishing of their skills, so to stay on top some kids have to be brought in every year.; to stay relevant and in the hunt for the Cup.

        I saved my comments from Ricks Response to put in here since you address Niemi, probably tonight. I do think that just like Murray, that Chi game was more an indictment of the skaters and not the goalies and as you mentioned above their reticence to get in the way of puck carriers. I doubt Niemi will have anywhere near as bad a night tonight, if he gets the nod as he did in his debut; since the team seems to have gotten it in the way of team D. He may not win, but since it is doubtful that the skaters will allow TB to run the same shooting drills on the Pens as they did with Chi, TB will have to work a lot harder to get the quality chances the Hawks had.

        Like you I do like seeing Kuhnhackl get time on the PP. He looked good in preseason and has earned more TOI than he is getting.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        October 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Hey 55,

        Great to hear from you, as always.

        Boy, did you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned our schedule. It’s murderous, especially through the early going. Not only do we have 19 back-to-backs–far and away the most in the league–but starting with last night’s win we play 13 of 18 games on the road.

        Imbedded in that lovely little stretch is a five-game swing through Minnesota and the wilds of western Canada (pun intended). We have another killer stretch, beginning mid-February, of nine of 13 on the road.

        I usually don’t complain about stuff like that, but sheesh! Could the league send a clearer message that they don’t want us to win again?

        About the only saving grace? We’re in the ‘Burgh a lot through the middle part of the season and finish with six of our last nine at home.


        PS–While we’re talking ridiculous, the league is once again making a mockery of itself by calling everything that even remotely hints of a slash.

        When are the powers that be going to realize if they would just enforce the rules the way they’re intended, in a manner that’s reasonable and balanced, things would take care of themselves?

  4. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Good Article! It is hard to win one Cup, let alone repeat or worse yet 3-peat. To all things come an end. Perhaps the Pens Cup run is over.

    However, I am not ready to give up yet. No, I don’t think the group of Pens that will take the ice tonight are the strongest group of Pens in the organization and therefore not the best suited to 3-peat. Let’s remember that no one thought Sullivan would win his first Cup as a Coach 2 years ago and even last year the odds were not overwhelmingly behind our frozen fowl. Yet Sullivan found a way to get enough out those teams to hoist 2 in a row, so I am not counting him out.

    More importantly the season is long, 82 games. Even when the Pens had the most powerful teams winning the Presidents trophy they found themselves on the short end of the post season, just like the Caps the last couple of season. It doesn’t matter who comes out of the gate hot, it matter who has enough left in the tank in June.

    Also, the opening night roster two years ago was no where near the roster that hoisted the Cup 2 years ago. There is plenty of time to tweak the roster to get the right players on the team. Some changes may come in the form of a trade but then again, some of the changes I really hope come from within. I really do believe there are players in WBS that are better than players on the big clubs roster, hopefully time will show that, but possibly injuries, unfortunately can too.

    Speaking of injuries, I am slightly baffled by the promotion of Summers. I didn’t see any of the practices this year, but in terms of preseason games, Summers was pretty much invisible, while Tinordi, Trotman, and Bengtsson would seem to have distinguished themselves at least a bit, far more than Summers. I really hope that the team isn’t falling back into the mold of fear that crippled them for so many years; crippled them into playing players with more experience rather than more talent.

    Go Pens, stuff the great ape!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 11, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Other Rick.

      I just have a feeling that we may be lacking that indefinable something that all champions seem to have. Almost impossible to maintain over an extended period of time.

      Heck, it’s hard enough to win one Cup, let alone two or three.

      You’re right. It is awfully early. Too early, in fact, to truly get an accurate read on our season. And, as you suggest, it’s fairly certain the team we have now won’t be the one we have heading down the home stretch and into the playoffs.

      The tricky part, as I see it, is that we have a lot of kids who are almost, but not quite ready to be prime-time players. Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson and Daniel Sprong head the list of Baby Pens who could potentially have an impact a little ways down the road.

      If you’re Jim Rutherford, do you look for longer-term solutions in trades when you know you have a batch of promising kids down on the farm? Or do you look for rental players, who don’t always work out?


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        October 11, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Excellent question Rick,

        I for one do not want to see the Pens gamble on a rent-a-mistake. That is why the only 3 players that I have heard talk about that I would want the Pens to make a pitch for are Duchene, Athanasiou, and/or Zaripov, nor would I over pay for any of them. Unless the price is right Bob, I would stay the course with some patience.

        The window may no longer be wide open, but I don’t think there is a danger of it closing for at least three more years (on Malkin and Crosby), particularly if the Pens keep a fresh supply of quality kids around.

        However, I also don’t think Aston-Reese, Johnson, and Sprong are still WBS players, not when I look at the players on this roster. Yes, these players are not at the peak of the careers yet and have room to get even better but I do believe that they can play and would benefit more from playing against NHL talent rather than AHL players. Even as big of a gambler I may be I would be a little tentative about putting all three of them on the roster right now, but then again, Sullivan did the same thing two years ago when he through Sheary, Rust, and Kuhnhackl to the wolves and that bought us the first of our most recent back-to-back Cups.

        It is going to be interesting to see how the season plays out.

        We do have to wait a bit to see if Wilson puts his tail between his legs tonight as is his wont, he still has one more game to sit on his suspension.

        • Jim's Gravatar Jim
          October 12, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Hey OTR,
          Five bucks and box of Tim Horton Do-Nuts says that come February these guys will do what they always do, trade away the farm for RENT a HOPE !!. I used think, Lord just maybe could we have 2 first rounds picks next year, and then I realize with these Clowns, they would have 2 chances instead 1 to trade away for nothing.Given their track record with First and Second round picks, you know I am right? I cringe every time I see Reeves play.He tries, ..
          I give him that but man he is on the wrong team for his skill set Coach.To slow.
          It would be like trying to win the Kentucky Derby with a Clydesdale Horse. He will work his tail off for you in effort but will never win. Cost us a first round pick ??? Third, maybe..but a First… Not one of JR’s finest moments.
          My 2 cents ..

          • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
            October 12, 2017 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

            Hey Jim,

            Great analogy about the Clydesdale competing in the Derby. Also, a very apt description of the Reaves situation in general.

            As much as I’m pulling for him–and I was downright ecstatic about this trade when JR made it–Reaves truly looks like the proverbial fish out of water.

            Prediction: following in the skate tracks of Marty McSorley back in ’93-94, he’ll be traded to the Kings midseason. Or, perhaps, back to the Blues or maybe his hometown Jets.


          • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
            October 12, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

            Hey Jim,

            You are not going to get me to take that bet. With the banishment of 5 players to WBS that outplayed several players on the roster, it really looks like the Pens are going back into futility mode of playing conservatively, of playing experienced players even though they don’t have the talent level of younger players and who do not even posses the skill set to drive Sullivan’s system.

            • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
              October 12, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

              Hey guys,

              That’s kind of what I was driving at when I called the Pens a team in transition.

              They’ve cleared out some veterans and opened some slots. But the younger kids aren’t quite ready to step in. Hence, they’re plugging gaps with the likes of Hunwick, McKegg and Niemi.

              Similar to ’15-16, I fully expect some of the kids to start moving up in the Jan.-Feb. time frame, if not sooner.


            • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
              October 12, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

              Hey Rick,

              I have to disagree slightly with you here, I do think that even though guys like Aston-Reese, Johnson, Sprong, and Bengtsson and even Tinordi have no or limited NHL experience, they are better than players on the roster. I do think that if at least 2 of those players were on the roster, the team would be looking much better and may even have a better record.

              And although I don’t think Niemi has played all that bad, the Pens D is abysmal in front of him, I also believe Jarry or even DeSmith would be an upgrade, but given the pathetic state of the Pens D and the limited amount of starts they would receive, I am not all that upset with having them down in WBS to protect them from the turnstiles called D men on the Pens roster.


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