Depending on which insider you ask, the Pittsburgh Penguins are one or two steps away from needing to go full-blown rebuild. Others think the team is only a couple pieces away from contending for the playoffs and a Stanley Cup. General manager Jim Rutherford is a member of the second group and as such, we should probably all expect the Penguins won’t be shipping out pieces. Instead, they’ll be adding them.
The Athletic’s Josh Yohe recently discussed Rutherford’s recent comments about his team and his plan for it when it comes to the free agent market. The hint seems to be that he’ll continue to dabble in adding roster players through that avenue and try to keep the window to win open and his club competitive two years from now.
Some will say the writing is on the wall as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin move into their mid-30s. Other players are aging and the organization has given away a good chunk of their future draft picks to remain competitive. The only problem is, it’s not clear how competitive they’ll be. The Penguins are part of stacked East Division. They’ll need to be one of four teams to make it out of group that includes the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and New York Rangers, just to name a few. That’s no easy task.
As such, Rutherford might add. Yohe writes quotes Rutherford who said, “First of all, some of the things we’ve done recently are things we’ll need to do more as time goes on.” He adds:
Rutherford believes spending money in free agency — perhaps the kind of money the Penguins typically don’t spend during the summer — is going to be pivotal to keeping the Penguins competitive a couple of years from now.
Rutherford has said the key to his plan going forward will come a couple of years down the road. He notes their success will come from “plugging in an impact player into the lineup. Maybe a couple of impact players.” He said the time will come when they get the opportunity, even if those instances are rarer in nature. “We’ll have to find the right year to do it, but the time will come when we’ll need to find a truly impactful player who is probably in his mid-20s,” he said.
So, When Is It Too Late For the Penguins?
As Yohe points out, there will come a time when age and money combined with opportunity catches up to Rurtherford and the Penguins. That time is coming pretty quickly. He explains:
Many will point to the summer of 2022 as a true crossroads for the Penguins. Malkin and Kris Letang are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents then. Malkin will be 36 in 2022, and Letang will be 35. Another key contributor, Bryan Rust, also will see his team-friendly contract expire that summer.
So, while Rutherford might assume there will be an attraction by a free agent or two to want to play with Crosby or Malkin, as those guys age, the attraction likely isn’t as strong.
If the Penguins are going to spend some money and add an impact player, they might have to do so before it’s too late.
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