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Predicting how long the Penguins’ Stanley Cup window will stay open

The Crosby/Malkin era has allowed for the Penguins to stay relatively big Cup contenders for the last 12 years or so.

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NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

This past week, Craig Custance of The Athletic published a really interesting piece depicting how long the Stanley Cup window stays open for the NHL’s top contending teams.

It took into accord statistics like points earned after the regular season concludes, plus how well each team did in categories such as penalty kill, power play success, expected goals for percentage, strength of schedule, and how far they advanced throughout the playoffs in each previous year.

It detailed teams such as the San Jose Sharks, whose window has seemed to stay open for an exuberant amount of time (thanks, Joe Thornton!), as well as teams who have seemingly stayed at the top tier year after year in the past five seasons or so, such as the likes of the Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, etc.

What was the most intriguing part of the article was how fascinating the Penguins’ Cup window pattern shook out. Custance explained it as Pittsburgh appearing for a couple of years where the team explodes and is an unstoppable force riddled with elite talent and depth and then disappearing for a couple years where it experiences the lowest of lows — almost like a see-saw effect. We saw this back in 2008-09, then in 2012-13, and then most recently in 2016-17 during their back-to-back championship wins.

Because of the focus to win now at all costs while the Penguins still have Sidney Crosby playing at his consistent, superstar level, they haven’t put a lot of focus on restocking the cupboards like all the aforementioned teams from above tend to do to continuously rise to the top and stay in contention. Pittsburgh’s front office focuses more on tweaking and honing in on impressive overagers who manage to stay hidden in the doldrums of other leagues or aren’t given a fair shot after spending time on Division I college teams. They then sign those players to cap-friendly contracts, bulk the bench, and provide skills that complement the team’s star players.

Another intriguing element of the Penguins’ Cup contention window is that in the 12-year window Custance was examining in his article, Pittsburgh stayed relevant throughout the entire study. It also suggests that because of the couple year pattern as explained above, the Penguins should ideally be back in Cup contention as 2020 comes around — which is excellent news to the team and fans.

That key element in that trend makes the moves and decisions made by general manager Jim Rutherford in this offseason so much more important. Because the Penguins have that trend advantage on their side, who knows what this upcoming season could have in store? The horrid start to the year in 2015 had folks already giving up on any sort of playoff run, let alone a championship win, but one head coaching change seemed to be all the Penguins needed to earn their fourth Cup.

Idealistically, the Penguins’ Stanley Cup window will probably stay open as long as Crosby is on the team and the front office continues surrounding him with the pieces necessary to win. I’d say we’re looking at another five to six years or so. But a declination is for sure on the rise, and once it hits, that expected Cup contention burst every couple of years will officially be a thing of the past until the team rebuilds...

...Or it lands another generational talent.