Pittsburgh Penguins Post-Mortem: A Look at the 2014-15 Season


And so just like that, the Pittsburgh Penguins season has come to an end, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The final five games of their season, compromised of one win and four losses in a series defeat to the President Trophy-winning New York Rangers, served as a wondrous showcase of all the things that caused this team to limp toward the finish line of its season. Their play was substantially better in the playoffs, with each game being decided by one goal, but they still looked outmatched at many times in the series. However, the series also highlighted the elements that allowed the Pens to stay afloat for so long.

Much of the Penguins struggles down the stretch were the result of extreme misfortune. Who could have predicted season-ending injuries for Pascal Dupuis (66 games missed) and Olli Maatta (62 games missed)? And what about the prolonged absences of Christian Ehroff (33 games), Blake Comeau (21 games), Patric Hornqvist (18 games), Beau Bennett (16 games), Evgeni Malkin (13 games) and Kris Letang (13 games)? Those eight players comprise $31.25 million of the total $69 million cap space allotted to NHL teams. Having about 45 percent of your team miss at least 15 percent of the season is a tough pill to swallow.

However, as I pointed out in another editorial on the performances of General Manager Jim Rutherford and Head Coach Mike Johnston, these unavoidable woes were exasperated by poor decisions from the GM. Leaving the Penguins with only a second-round pick out of the first four rounds shows a Shero-esque mentality of sacrificing the future to win now. Furthermore, while Rutherford could not have foreseen the numerous injuries, his reactions only served to further hinder the team. The trade of Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy has severely affected the team’s performance down the stretch, as Lovejoy has floundered greatly. Johnston has tried his best to play with the hand he has been dealt, but Rutherford has only worsened the deck.

Mar 12, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) looks on against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On the flip side, certain Penguins have stood out as many feared the walls were coming down. No player should be praised more for this than Marc-Andre Fleury. Shortly before he signed his four year, $23 million extension, I wrote a defense of the much-maligned goaltender. A commenter disagreed and dismissed his body of work as “painfully underwhelming.” At the time, many would have sided with the critic of Flower. However, after a regular season in which he helped carry the Penguins to the playoffs on the back of a league-leading ten shutouts and a postseason in which he was clearly the star, Fleury seems to have truly matured into the star goalie everyone hoped he could be. With the guidance of goaltending coach Mike Bales, Fleury has proven that his contract extension was well-earned and that his play is much improved.

Furthermore, despite my criticism of several personnel decisions, certain additions to the team, including Hornqvist and Ehrhoff, have proven to be quality moves. While Ehrhoff is an impending free agent, Hornqvist is contracted with the franchise through the 2017-2018 season. His gritty play and his stellar attitude helped to make him a definite upgrade over the player for whom he was traded, James Neal.

The other player who was included in that deal, Nick Spaling, added solid depth to a notoriously top-heavy roster. Maxim Lapierre, another impending free agent who was acquired from the St. Louis Blues, has also provided a much needed agitator presence to the roster.  He did so without overstepping boundaries to the degree of Steve Downie, who managed to simultaneously be a good and bad addition through a mixture of offensive production and a league-leading number of penalty minutes.

The idea of being simultaneously good and bad is one that can be extrapolated to sum up the team’s entire season. At times, the Penguins showed flairs of being world beaters. Their talent cannot be questioned and, especially early on in the season, that skill flourished as the team rushed off to a hot start. However, as the injuries mounted and poor management decisions followed, courtesy of Rutherford, the team’s immense ability was stymied. The Penguins were not without faults, but much of the bad seems to have been unavoidable.

It is hard not to feel disappointed. A team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a hot Marc-Andre Fleury seems like it should be an immediate contender for a Stanley Cup, not a team headed for the golf course after the first round. But the fact remains that Mike Johnston and the Penguins were playing shorthanded for the majority of the season and were further handicapped by the mismanagement of Jim Rutherford. With these two major variables, there is no telling what the team may have accomplished.

The 2014-2015 Pittsburgh Penguins have been eliminated and they are gone. But now, the sights can be readjusted to focus on the 2015-2016 squad and fans can begin to assess how this team can recoup its talent and launch a more successful attempt at a deep playoff run. Most of the pieces are there, it is merely a matter of figuring out which do not belong, which do, and how they fit together.

More from Pens Labyrinth