A lot to digest in Pittsburgh, these days.
Right or wrong, General Manager Ray Shero is a free agent. Jason Botterill is working as the team's interim head of hockey operations. No one is quite sure where head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff still stand.
What everyone at this point is sure of is that the roster is getting older, slower and increasingly more expensive. If Shero and the team's hockey ops staff are the first dominoes to fall, it is only to allow the incoming parties to address those problems with the roster.
One of the most illuminating things to come of the chaos was the meeting-room exchange between the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic and Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, VP of Communications Tom McMillan and CEO David Morehouse.
Of note, Burkle and Lemieux seemed especially in concert on the notion that the Penguins need to be faster, more ill-tempered, more responsible -- in a word, completely unlike the team they've become.
Burkle would at one point compliment the play of the team's youngsters, who were instrumental in helping the squad survive the regular season. The team handily captured a division title in spite of 500-plus man-games lost to injury.
For their contributions, though, those young players were largely kept in the minors during the team's uninspired postseason run.
At the prompting of whether or not the Penguins roster had become too old:
"That's part of what we're talking about right now with the younger guys," Burkle said. "You can look at the draft and say what we did or didn't do, but we've got forwards and D-men who we have drafted and didn't always take advantage of them or done a lot with them. So we have ended up with an older team.
"When we do see our younger guys, we see a lot more energy, a lot more of what we'd like to see in our game. So maybe those guys at the Garden were playing a little bit ahead of their ability. They made up with their energy."
The Pens are likely still some time away from making any meaningful roster changes. While trades can take place at any time, the NHL Draft and the beginning of free agency are still more than a month away.
Given the Pens' tight cap situation as of now, it is a real possibility that the team will from now on rely on its young players to play meaningful minutes, something they haven't been trusted to do in recent years.
The team may not have any other choice.
If Pittsburgh is to rely on its youngsters, those players will be Shero's products. Those products, largely, are defensemen. The Shero-era draft edict was always clear -- load up on hugely talented defenders, keep the best of the best and move the others for forward help at the NHL level.
True to form, the Penguins have graduated prospects like Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik (Craig Patrick draft picks). Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo were regulars throughout the 2014 postseason. Others, like Joe Morrow, Ryan Whitney and Ben Lovejoy, were traded to bring in help at forward.
That strategy worked, until it didn't.
Despite their lauded defensive pipeline, the Penguins repeatedly signed veteran defenders to expensive contracts. That was a symptom of the team's inability to trust its prospects, and no small part of why Shero is out of a job and Bylsma seems to be hot on his trail.
Paul Martin (2010), Zbynek Michalek (2010) and Rob Scuderi (2013) signed contract extensions totaling $61 million, and only Martin seems likely to fulfill the value of his deal. Deryk Engelland, Douglas Murray and Mark Eaton were brought on board to play regularly and skate in slow circles while names like Simon Despres and Brian Strait were buried in Wilkes-Barre.
The philosophy was preached, but never quite practiced.
For years, that defensive pipeline was expected to supplement the team's talented but top-heavy forward group.
Now, they'll have to save them.
One of Penguins' biggest obstacles is the salary cap. That's true more now than ever, especially in the wake of contract extensions signed by Evgeni Malkin, Letang and other deals for Scuderi and Pascal Dupuis which were locked in a summer ago.
- Scuderi and Dupuis, both of whom suffered significant injuries this season and who will be on the north side of 35 by next year's playoffs, will count for a combined $7.125 million in each of the next three seasons.
- Malkin and Letang receive raises totaling $4.55 million that will count against the team's cap for each of the next eight years. Malkin has a full no-move clause. Letang's extension will bring a modified no-trade clause.
- The Penguins have six players set to earn $5 million or more next season. Those six players count for $40.45 million, or just about 57 percent of the estimated $71 million salary cap set for the 2014-15 season.
That means the defense is going to have to be built from within.