Paul Zeise: Penguins are living in a fantasy land -- it's time to join reality

Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Hockey

The Penguins need to have some real-world discussions about the state of the franchise and the fact that the band needs to be broken up. The only fix for this is to rip the Band-Aid off and get the process of making real, meaningful changes started.

Let's start with Mike Sullivan, for whom it seems like there is almost zero chance he will be fired. I am not saying he definitely should be fired, but if his seat is not blazing hot and he isn't forced to change his coaching staff, then I'm not sure why anything else matters.

I called probably be convinced that Sullivan has earned the right to at least start next season provided there are deep changes to his staff and it is made clear he is coaching for his job.

Then again, what really has Sullivan done in recent years that suggests he is still the right voice in the room? He started out with a bang as he won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. That is the only reason I could even listen to the "he should be brought back" arguments.

Since then, the Penguins have been a lot more pedestrian than anything else. The 2018 team lost to the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs, but the Capitals were the eventual champions and really were one of the best teams in the NHL all season.

OK, let's say that was not a bad season, but that was the last time the Penguins won a playoff series. And there have been horrific losses in those series. Of course, last season and this season, the Penguins under Sullivan avoided bad playoff losses because they just missed the playoffs altogether.

Sullivan is obviously a successful coach who is well respected around the NHL, but results matter. And the Penguins have had some of the same troublesome characteristics — poor power plays, worse overtimes, blown late leads — of poorly coached teams.

Maybe Sullivan is a great coach, but he hasn't been for the past few seasons. It is likely he has run his course here.

Post-Gazette colleague Joe Starkey laid out the fact that the Penguins have a goalie issue. I never understood the Tristan Jarry contract and still don't, but the Penguins are kidding themselves if they are tying their future to him. The Penguins need another goalie — no, Alex Nedeljkovic is not that guy either.


The Penguins need a goalie because they don't have one who is capable of stealing playoff games and leading them deep into the playoffs.

Then there is the elephant in the room — the aging trio (actually now a quartet) of stars. Those three have had a great run, but it is over now. And their presence — and contracts — prohibit any growth from actually happening.

I know they all have no-trade clauses and will be hard to move, but if Kyle Dubas wants to show us all how impressive he is as a general manager, he needs to get it done. He obviously should keep Sidney Crosby around and give him an extension because he is still playing at a high level.

He needs to figure out which teams Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson would accept a trade to and get it done. All three are still productive, so they still have value but consider this — Malkin and Crosby have played pretty much every game the last two years, and all four played this entire season. And yet the team has missed the playoffs both years.

That tells me their impact is far less than some seem to think it is and continuing to build a team around that core seems to be a classic example of a team lying to itself. This isn't working anymore. This model is broken and it is only going to get worse as they get older.

The Penguins were entertaining down the stretch, but let's not allow that to cloud the fact that this is a hockey team with a lot of flaws and seemingly no real desire to move out of this middling purgatory they have been stuck in for a few years.

The stars had their day, but they are now holding the progress of the rebuild back — that's assuming Dubas and Co. understand it is a rebuild that needs to happen.

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