When Mike Sullivan came to the Penguins, his mantra was, “Just Play”.
When Jim Rutherford surrendered a first round pick and Oskar Sundqvist for Ryan Reaves this summer, he went directly against what had made the Penguins back to back champions.
The Penguins were four lines of speed and scoring complemented by a defense who fed their transition game.
The Penguins were not in the business of taking liberties.
The Penguins ousted teams who decided to ice enforcers because the Penguins themselves only put players on the ice who could contribute offensively.
Rutherford made his first mistake in two years when he decided to make that “feel-good” move to “protect his stars”.
But it was only the start of where this roster went wrong.
It’s really not some hidden secret as to why the Penguins are struggling.
However, if it’s not apparent to you, let me spell it out.
First, they’re tired.
These guys have played more hockey than anyone on the planet for not one, but two straight years.
And this problem isn’t really correctable.
They’ve just got to turn it on at some point.
Maybe they will.
Maybe they won’t.
But I’m certainly a believer that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won’t struggle forever.
If those guys don’t get going, nothing else really matters.
Second, Jim Rutherford had a terrible offseason.
Nobody wants to admit it, but it’s absolutely true.
Rutherford had two straight seasons with flawless execution.
He deserves full credit for the back to back Stanley Cups.
However, this offseason was full of mistakes.
He deserves credit for that too.
It’s okay to admit it.
It’s okay to hold him accountable, even if he was great the last two years.
Oskar Sundqvist wasn’t anything more than a fourth-liner.
But neither is Ryan Reaves.
And you didn’t have to give up a first-round pick to keep Oskar Sundqvist.
And you could’ve drafted a steal of a forward prospect in Klim Kostin at pick 31.
Then, the Hunwick signing.
Why give a bottom pair defender a three-year contract on an already cap-strapped team.
To top it off, Hunwick was unable to play the right side, like he was signed to do.
Next, the McKegg experiment.
While it was fun to imagine the Penguins can turn anyone into a star, it’s simply not true.
McKegg was a lazy replacement for Nick Bonino and an AHL player at best.
Now, do we even need to talk about Niemi?
A 7.50 GAA.
That’s four added players, and all four made the team undoubtedly worse.
There’s one thing that Kunitz, Cullen, Bonino, and Daley had in common.
They’re all replaceable.
But when you literally don’t replace any of them, you’re going to get worse.
Fans loved to hate on Chris Kunitz in his latter years as a Penguin.
Chris Kunitz, at his absolute worst, was exponentially more useful than Ryan Reaves.
The only difference is that Ryan Reaves can punch people in the face better.
Once again, don’t get me wrong.
Ryan Reaves is a beast and a hall of fame human being.
But that doesn’t help you win hockey games.
It’s peculiar to me that so many hockey fans will overlook someone’s ability to play the game if they’re big and able to punch people in the face.
Anyways, the good news.
This team is fixable, but moves have got to be made.
As currently constructed, the Penguins are not a Cup contender.
Jamie Oleksiak changes almost nothing.
If Oleksiak is not insurance to allow the Penguins to move Ian Cole in a bigger deal, than I think Rutherford is sorely mistaken, because Oleksiak is not much more than a sixth d-man.
I think there is a few things the Penguins need to do to turn this season around.
First, make a splash.
Preferably at the third center spot.
You just won back to back Stanley Cups because you made a trade no one else would.
Phil Kessel instantly made the Penguins better than everyone else.
Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, who cares?
GMs are often too passive; they don’t want to give up some future to win now, and they end up mediocre in both time periods.
If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Alex Galchenyuk is available, go get them.
Put this team over the top.
Second, bring on the youthful injection.
Jake Guentzel brought a huge spark to this team last year and it carried over to the playoffs.
The Penguins have this year’s spark waiting in Wilkes-Barre.
Call Daniel Sprong up and let him play.
I don’t care about his defense.
I don’t care how he’s playing right now.
He’s an instant upgrade over both Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl.
Sprong is everything that the Penguins need.
Youth, energy, scoring, and speed.
Also, he fires the puck like the second coming of Phil Kessel.
Get some new blood in this seemingly stale lineup.
Finally, scrap that fourth line.
I really don’t care what they do, but it can’t be any worse than it is now.
There might not be one NHL player on that line.
If the Penguins trade for a good third-center, it changes the entire dynamic of the lineup.
Sheahan drops to 4C, where he is well above average for his role.
Surround him with line-mates like Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong, and you’ve got a fourth line better than the one the Penguins had last year.
Things are far from over for this Penguins team.
Don’t give up hope just yet.
If you like regular seasons without adversity, the Capitals are your team.
I believe in these Penguins until the very end.
They’ve earned that of me.
With that being said, let my inner-realist take over for only a moment.
The gifts they’ve given us the past two years are more than enough.
If there’s nothing under the tree this year, than I understand.