Is The Pittsburgh Penguins Model Fundamentally Broken?


The Pittsburgh Penguins are slumping right now, badly. They have lost their last four straight and have been outscored 15-4 since halfway through the second period against the Edmonton Oilers. What has been the problem? No one knows, that is the most concerning part of this decline. However, their inconsistencies, sloppy play and poor penalties have become a common occurrence in Pittsburgh since winning the Stanley Cup in 2008-2009. 

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Every season it seems the Pittsburgh Penguins have the talent on the roster to win the cup and if they do not have the talent, they acquire it at the trade deadline. Year after year the story remains the same, the Pittsburgh Penguins load up to make a deep run into the playoffs and every year they fall short of their end goal, winning the Stanley Cup.

Fans and experts alike realize that a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will have a chance to contend for the Cup every season. Those three names are some of the biggest stars in the NHL today and as you would expect, command a significant portion of the salary cap. Specifically, their respective contracts total $25.45 million or 37% of the Pittsburgh Penguins salary cap.

Despite the lack of postseason success, all three of these players were given large and lengthy contracts to keep them with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the foreseeable future.

Feb 19, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) pulls the jersey of Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) as they fight during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Before I go any further, I will reiterate that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are presently three of the best players in the world and will continue to be for upcoming seasons. None of these three are great, good, leaders and this might be the fundamental problem with the Pittsburgh Penguins philosophy.

Since 2007-2008 Sidney Crosby has worn the highly coveted “C” on his jersey and Evgeni Malkin an “A” but these designations have been nothing less than recognition of their superstar talent. Yes, Sidney Crosby was the youngest “Captain” to win the Stanley Cup in 2009-2010. He was not the leader of the Pittsburgh Penguins at that time, Bill Guerin, Maxime Talbot, Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik and Craig Adams led that team to victory.

People often fail to realize that statistical production does not equate to leadership. I’ve studied the Pittsburgh Penguins relentlessly for years and have publicly defended these core players, but it is getting old and they are wasting years in the prime of their careers.

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These three players have been one of very few consistent factors on the Pittsburgh Penguins annually. This confusing, frustrating and maddening problem begs the question, is there something fundamentally wrong with the way the Pittsburgh Penguins are constructing their team?

Former GM Ray Shero never found a way to answer that question and if you asked me during the first month of this season, I would have said new GM Jim Rutherford had fixed the problem. Shero was never willing to even consider that the philosophy of keeping this expensive, star studded core together was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ problem.

It was always someone else’s fault, “Shero did not build a deep enough team”, “deadline additions did not fit right” and “injury problems caused the Penguins to lose.” These are some of the known arguments Pittsburgh Penguins fans have used to defend why their beloved team lost in the playoffs. Very few people have actually been bold enough to question the “franchise players” and their inability to lead the team back to the Stanley Cup.

Nov 4, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (71) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Penguins defeated the Wild 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Here we sit in a familiar situation, the Pittsburgh Penguins imploding as they head towards the end of the season. With 11 games left, the Penguins have accumulated 88 points, are barely holding onto the third Metropolitan division playoff spot over the Washington Capitals (88 points) and Pittsburgh is playing some of its worst hockey of the year. The last two months we have witnessed undisciplined, mistake-prone and (generally) uninspired hockey being played by the Penguins.

The burden now falls to rookie head coach Mike Johnston and the highly regarded core players of Crosby, Malkin and Letang to take the next step. They need to lead this team now more than ever, because if they don’t I’m not sure how long the Penguins ownership will be willing to keep this core together.

Next: Bill Guerin Calls Out Pittsburgh Penguins

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