The Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably been the best team in the NHL in the 21st century. Similar to the New England Patriots, the Penguins have been a regular in the playoffs. In 2019, Pittsburgh clinched its 13th consecutive playoff berth, the longest in both franchise history and NHL history. Since 2008, the Penguins have won 3 Stanley Cups (tied with Chicago who has also won 3 Cups. The team was led by star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But, are the glory days for the black and gold coming to an end?
Retirement is inevitable and it’s a matter of when. Crosby is currently 32 years old and fans fear he is nearing the end of his career. A player normally hits their peak play from ages 27-31 and goes down from there. Crosby is over that age gap and so is Malkin. Malkin is 33 years old and also has been showing signs of decline. This is completely understandable, considering the toll hockey takes on a player’s body.
The first sign of the Penguins’ championship window closing was in 2018, where they lost to the Washington Capitals in a 4-2 series. Even in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens looked sloppy and out of sorts. In last year’s playoffs, Pittsburgh was swept by the New York Islanders in the first round.
In both years the team had great regular seasons and were considered contenders for the Cup. The fans were also very optimistic and somewhat blinded by the success in the past decade and have now realized the Championship window is closing fast. This team has been known to overcome adversity to rise above their injuries and toughest opponents. The derailment can also be blamed on the front office as well.
General Manager Jim Rutherford has not made the moves he needed to. In 2016, he hired head coach Mike Sullivan. This was a brilliant move because it has really paid off. But on the ice, there haven’t been many changes. In 2017, the Penguins lost key pieces of their defense like Trevor Daley, Mark Streit, and Ron Hainsey. Rutherford did not make a move to replace those holes and instead played backup defenders and AHL players.
Letting go of Ian Cole at the trade deadline was not a good move either. Instead, Rutherford brought in Derick Brassard, who didn’t produce what the Penguins needed in the postseason. Ian Cole was a defender too, so this move didn’t help the defense at all.
The Stanley Cup is the hardest championship to win in all of sports, but it doesn’t excuse sloppy play coming from a team that has proven to overcome adversity. The Penguins have proven they can overcome obstacles and rise above. If Crosby and Malkin are going to lead another Stanley Cup run, they are going to need some help. Whether it’s a blockbuster trade or the young players stepping up, they need help.
The time is now for Pittsburgh. Currently, we await whether or not the 2019 NHL season will resume. The Penguins are currently 3rd in the Metropolitan Division under Washington and Philadelphia. Pittsburgh had the lead in the division but then let go by losing six consecutive games. Four of those six should’ve been won. If they won those “easy” games, Pittsburgh would be in control of the division, but instead, they find themselves 3 points behind Philadelphia. The Metropolitan is arguably the most competitive division in the NHL and sloppy play won’t compete with all the talent there is.
Current Metropolitan Division Standings
1 – Washington Capitals (41-20-8) 90 pts
2 – Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7) 89 pts
3 – Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6) 86 pts
4 – Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5) 81 pts
5 – Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15) 81 pts
6 – New York Islanders (35-23-10) 80 pts
7 – New York Rangers (37-28-5) 79 pts
8 – New Jersey Devils (28-29-12) 68 pts
If the Penguins have one more championship run in them, it will probably be the last for a good amount of time. Hopefully,, they will figure it out and get one more Stanley Cup while “Sid the Kid” and Malkin are still productive. As a Penguins fan myself, I would love to see the one more Cup between the duo and for them to dance with Lord Stanley once again.