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Penguins Perspectives: Caught up in the honeymoon hangover

Ireland Contracting Nightly Sports Call: Feb. 22, 2024
Ireland Contracting Nightly Sports Call: Feb. 22, 2024 16:39

Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Friday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - What a time it was - Ron Hextall and Brian Burke were jettisoned from their offices above the ice at UPMC Lemieux, Kyle Dubas was named president, and Erik Karlsson was a Pittsburgh Penguin for the price of…well, nothing too expensive. 

The sun was shining, the Penguins got the best player available this offseason, and the stank of a management who appeared to operate by the seat of their pants was cleared. 

Less than a calendar year later, the honeymoon has officially come to an end. 

The Penguins sit seven points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the power play is one of the three worst in the league, and it appears we're headed for the first time in the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era that the team misses the playoffs in consecutive years. 

No, the X-Generation isn't looming - those who know, know and just shuddered at the mere mention of that as memories of Rico Fata, Steve McKenna, and Milan Kraft began dancing in their heads. 

The big rebuild should, and I say that with all due skepticism, still be a few years away. Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, and yes even Karlsson are very capable of great play. 

Once again, the Penguins find themselves right back where they were this time last year. 

The big guns have done their job. Crosby's having another marvelous season. Jake Guentzel prior to injury was having another consistently great season. Malkin has struggled but with a Looney Toons-style rotating door of wingers at age 37 he's doing all he can, and Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic have been rock solid between the pipes. 

It's the rest of the roster that falls short of taking this team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The Penguins currently have eight players who have played more than 20 games and have single-digit points. While not the end of the world, five of those eight have been brought in by Kyle Dubas. 

He was certainly stuck in a tough spot by former management as in just two short years, they did an obscene amount of damage to a team that was still among the league's best. 

Now, it appears we're barrelling toward a retooling on the fly, which is the right decision. 

Kyle Dubas cannot miss. 

All signs point toward a Jake Guentzel trade and that makes sense. A lack of draft capital, no true-blue top prospects to speak of, and a roster loaded up with no movement clauses, Jake is your best chance to recoup some assets you can either get to help next season or use to flip for more this summer. 

The path back to the playoffs is blocked for the Penguins in 2024 but in 2025? It's not hard to see: Flip some of your more productive and valuable pieces like Guentzel, Eller, Smith, and maybe even Nedeljkovic to get draft picks, younger players, and more ammo to make bigger trades this summer, and you'll be in business. 

Again, Dubas cannot miss on this one. 

There is still greatness on this roster and another deep run over the next handful of years is entirely possible. The good news for Penguins fans is if Kyle Dubas's weakness is signings, his absolute strength is trading. Take a look at the Karlsson deal, take a look at the vast majority of his trades in Toronto and the guy rarely loses a deal. At worst, he ties. 

That strength has to be put to use this trade deadline and this summer, or we'll be writing the same columns, recording the same podcasts, and turning the same channels next season. 

The honeymoon may be over but the marriage is salvageable. 

The Penguins don't need another divorce just a couple of years later. 

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