Could Loyalty Be The Downfall Of The Pittsburgh Penguins?


The Pittsburgh Penguins have developed into one of the most stable hockey franchises in the entire league. They have done so by skillfully drafting players and building competitive teams every season. Much of their success is admittedly due to having a core that consists of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. However, they had the foresight to draft each of these four players and keep them in Pittsburgh via contract extensions. The overall success the Pittsburgh Penguins’ have had as a franchise is showcased by their incredibly passionate fanbase. Every two years Forbes releases a ranking of the fanbases of every NHL franchise and for the last six years the Pittsburgh Penguins have been rated as having the best fans

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Like I previously mentioned, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a very loyal franchise and it shows by the length of contracts they frequently give out to their core players and beloved veterans. This is a very dangerous double edged sword. While on the one hand it builds a stable franchise that will make the playoffs annually, the other side is they are slow to change. What I mean is that the Pittsburgh Penguins have consistently failed to get back to the Stanley Cup final. Most recently the Pittsburgh Penguins parted with longtime GM Ray Shero and their coach with the most wins in franchise history (Dan Bylsma).

Nov 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins head coach

Dan Bylsma

(top) reacts on the bench against the Nashville Predators during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The newcomers have been GM Jim Rutherford and head coach Mike Johnston. These move has been scrutinized ever since it occurred and for the most part the results are positive. Presently, the Pittsburgh Penguins are second in their division by only one point to the New York Islanders. While this might seem fantastic on the surface, further examination shows since the first month of the season the Penguins have been an average hockey club. They have been plagued by poor performances from every member of the team and remarkable inconsistencies.

So what is the fundamental problem? It has taken me a while to realize this but it is the loyalty the Pittsburgh Penguins have towards their own. While the changeover of management and coaching were a very positive step to fixing their problem, it still exists. Except now the problem of excessive loyalty has crept into the GM’s office.

The issue is that GM Jim Rutherford is too loyal to players, specifically veterans and players he has known for some time. Examples are almost everywhere on the roster from Rob Scuderi to Craig Adams and even Brandon Sutter. Other players deserve to be on this list but these three are the ones who showcase this organizational flaw the best. 

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Rob Scuderi and Craig Adams both were valuable additions during their early careers’ in Pittsburgh, but their time is clearly over. Adams seems to have become mentally unstable and has been causing issues in the locker room, the exact opposite of what a veteran should be doing. Scuderi was at one time “the piece” but that is what he will forever be. Both players remain on the roster and provide very little value for their respective contracts. The only reason I see they both are still Pittsburgh Penguins is because ownership and management feels obligated to keep them because of their veteran status and affinity to the franchise. These two most likely would not be tradeable for a significant return, but their departure would free up roster space for younger and more hunger players.

Brandon Sutter is the more interesting of the two, just yesterday I tried to make some sense of his performance and what the Penguins options are. I really think that Brandon Sutter should be traded but I doubt it will actually happen. He remains a third line center who has flashed brilliance before but overall has underwhelmed since arriving in Pittsburgh. With the Pittsburgh Penguins being in a “win now” mode, trading Sutter away to try and upgrade the team is the logical move. However, it will not happen once again because of the unfaltering loyalty that management and ownership have in players. It was actually Rutherford who traded Brandon Sutter to Pittsburgh for Jordan Staal and now that they are reunited, I doubt Sutter will ever leave Pittsburgh even if would make sense.