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Opportunity Awaits

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Losing in the first round is an opportunity to re-direct the course of the franchise while Crosby and Malkin can still be productive in Pittsburgh.

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It isn't often that losing results in a positive outlook but with a number of negative situations facing the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason, it presents an opportunity to re-direct the course of the franchise.

While the huddled masses are yearning to breathe fire and brimstone, this season was never going to result in a Stanley Cup. Ray Shero made sure of that.

You can't fix ugly in one year and you surely can't place the blame on the six defensemen who suited up and did their best against a better the New York Rangers.

The Penguins best is usually better than most, this year it wasn't.

Any time you lose with a goaltending performance such as that by Marc-Andre Fleury, it is disappointing but this team was ill-equipped to compete against the depth of the Rangers and the other playoff teams.

That much was evident as the Penguins lost four 2-1 decisions against the Rangers.

A franchise featuring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lost four games because it couldn't score goals.

Again, you can't fix ugly in one year.

The future of General Manager Jim Rutherford has come into question, not surprising considering his short-term contract, unprofessional conduct toward a local reporter with an axe to grind, and horrible miscalculation on the salary cap that forced the team to play down to five defensemen for the last two weeks of the regular season.

None of those are reasons to fire or push Rutherford to retire.

If Rutherford asks to move into a consultant role, he'll do it for personal reasons and not because of what happened this season. He's 66 years old with an eight year old son, he's not going to want to miss much more of those days while traveling on the road for a hockey team in a rebuild.

What awaits Rutherford or the next General Manager is an opportunity to put the franchise back on the right path to being a Stanley Cup contender.

The first order of business is determining how to rid itself of the bad contracts to Rob Scuderi, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Nick Spaling.

Dupuis, a great man and someone everyone should be rooting for in his potential comeback but his health is questionable and being a family man, he'll likely be forced to call it quits like Tomas Vokoun. The Penguins will net a savings of $3.75 million by Dupuis being placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR).

It gets harder from there as everyone in the hockey community has seen Scuderi and Kunitz hit a wall from a physical standpoint.

Scuderi has never been fleet of foot or possess the hands to make a good outlet pass but he was someone reliable to play a sound positional game evidenced by his work in the 2009 playoffs alongside Hal Gill as they battled Alex Ovechkin throughout the series or how he mentored Drew Doughty in Los Angeles winning a Stanley Cup.

If the Penguins want to take advantage of this opportunity, they'll thank Scuderi for his service and buyout his final two years. It'll cost the team four years of cap space but the savings in the first two years will be enough to make it a wise decision financially and from a roster space perspecive, a no-brainer.

As for Kunitz, he came back from the Olympics in Sochi as a broken man with no hands. It was a last gasp performance in the gold medal game.

He can still be a viable alternative for a young team looking for a little bit of grit and experience on the second and third lines. If the Penguins can get a third round pick, they would be wise to take the deal and the $3.85 million cap savings.

Then there's Rutherford's own mess to fix when he signed Spaling to the two-year, $4.4 million deal. The team believed Spaling was primed to be a 15-20 goal scorer, they didn't nearly get that type of player. If the Penguins can get a third or fourth round pick for Spaling, it'll save the team $2.2 million next season.

The Penguins could possibly go from having $13.18 million tied up in Dupuis, Scuderi, Kunitz and Spaling to only spending 1.29 million for Scuderi's buyout.

Change is inevitable, maybe a little health coming back would be a nice return for making those hard decisions.

The defense is going to be the team's strong point with Letang, Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Taylor Chorney and Ben Lovejoy.

Not having to spend $9 million on the oft-injured Christian Ehrhoff and aging Paul Martin will bring a youthful exuberance to the blue line this franchise needs to take advantage of, especially for the transition game Head Coach Mike Johnston desires for his system to work.

While the team appears set down the middle with Crosby, Malkin and Brandon Sutter, they really need to bring back Maxim Lapierre as he lived up to his reputation as a hard-working playoff performer. He shouldn't cost more than $1.5 million as a fourth line center and based on his outstanding work winning faceoffs and leading the penalty-kill, he needs to be back. He was also one of the few forwards who upped their game when the playoffs started.

The losing should allow for the team to take advantage of their need for youth by inserting their three best prospects (Kasperi Kapanen, Oskar Sundqvist, Scott Wilson) at forward into the top three lines.

For Crosby and Malkin, let's hope their once youthful exuberance is a shining example of what opportunity lies in front of the Penguins.

Otherwise, what's the point of the core?