The Dark Times In Pittsburgh Begin Now...

The downfall of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

2023 NHL Winter Classic - Practices & Family Skate
2023 NHL Winter Classic - Practices & Family Skate / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Penguins began their reign of terror in the 2006-07 season which started an NHL record 16 straight playoff appearances. In those 16 straight appearances, they have won three Stanley Cups in four appearances. Their playoff dynasty was largely built on the core three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and solid goaltending.

In addition, the Penguins put together a solid team around them constantly through trades, free agency, and the draft. However, with Crosby and Letang at 36 years-old and Malkin at 37, the core will not be around forever. Also, the Penguins future is not bright due to a bunch of trades to try and compete for championships while the core is still producing at an elite level. The Penguins have drafted just three players in the first round in the past nine seasons.

Due to poor roster moves from former general manager Ron Hextall, the Penguins were coming into this season in an awful position both from a future and current standpoint as they are the oldest team in the league with no draft capital and limited cap space. Kyle Dubas came in trying to fix this team with the limited flexibility he had. Dubas' spent the offseason acquiring superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, attempting to fix the bottom-six forwards, and bring in a solid backup goalie. Karlsson and backup goalie Alex Nedeljkovic have been solid especially Karlsson as of late after a disappointing start to the season.

However, the bottom-six is still an issue as Matt Nieto has been injured for months, Noel Acciari has been abysmal, and Jansen Harkins might be the most frustrating Penguins player to watch. With 21 games left in the regular season, the Penguins are second-to-last in their division and eight points out of a wild card playoff spot.

Thursday's 6-0 loss to the Washington Capitals was pathetic and that loss pretty much put the dagger in the Penguins season. To add the icing on the cake, the Guentzel trade was completed sending him and Ty Smith to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Penguins follow up an embarrassing loss, with an abysmal trade.

For starters, why did Dubas feel it necessary to send a star like Guentzel to a division rival especially when teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Vancouver Canucks, and Florida Panthers were interested. Secondly, the Penguins failed to land any A-tier prospects that are in the Hurricanes system as Dubas for some reason chose quantity over quality in the prospects. Hopefully, these prospects work out and are actually critical pieces to the rebuild and are eventually on the main roster, but they could have received better prospects.

Also, another main part of this trade was the inability to have a guaranteed first-round pick. The first rounder we received is only if the Hurricanes make it to the Stanley Cup and if not it is Philadelphia's second-rounder and we only receive the fifth-rounder if the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup. It puts way too much pressure on the Hurricanes making it to the Stanley Cup when teams like the Boston Bruins, Panthers, and New York Rangers are also very capable of making it out of the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins definitely should have gotten more for Guentzel, but now it is in the past and can only hope this works out. The Penguins only win this trade if Guentzel re-signs with the Penguins and/or these prospects work out. Guentzel will be dearly missed but now it is time to look at Michael Bunting who will be Crosby's next linemate.

Bunting is not the same player offensively as Guentzel. However, Bunting fills in a solid need for the Penguins as he is a very gritty player. He also, can produce offensively as his best season was in the 2021-2022 season which is a Dubas reunion as they were together with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That season, Bunting had 63 points including 23 goals. In Toronto, he was playing with Auston Matthews and now he gets to play with one of the best playmakers of all-time in Sidney Crosby. Bunting has the chance to be a 30+ goal scorer like Guentzel was.

The Guentzel trade was not the only trade Dubas made as he once again made a trade with a division rival but this one is nowhere near the same risk. They shipped off veteran defenseman Chad Ruhwedel to the Rangers for a 2027 fourth-round pick. This trade is fine as the Penguins get a mid-round draft pick for Ruhwedel who defensively has not played well the past two seasons. Both Ruhwedel and Guentzel were both on the 2017 Stanley Cup team.

In what seems to be a lost season, the Penguins need to start thinking about the offseason and how they plan on attacking free agency, the draft, and evaluating the coaching staff. Mike Sullivan should be fired as they need a new voice, Todd Reirden should be fired due to the abysmal powerplay, and Reilly Smith should get moved to free up salary cap.

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