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Hot Take city: Talkin’ about what’s wrong with the Penguins

We ask, you answer about some of the problems on your mind for the Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For about as long as I can remember, aside from about 2016-18, every time I see my dad one of the first things he will ask me like clockwork is “what’s wrong with the Penguins”? It’s a good conversation starter, I guess, designed mostly to needle me, but always a fun ritual to go through.

With the way things are going now, a lot is wrong with the Pens — who are just 8-11-5 in the last two months. So why not throw it out to Twitter to get a pulse on the good, bad and ugly? And then of course chime in on the logic (or not) behind the takes.

The inactivity of Ron Hextall to find solutions is growing to a boiling point. And understandably so, with the team sliding and stumbling and no changes being made. Hextall struck from left field in 2021 to get Jeff Carter, and almost no one had connected Rickard Rakell to Pittsburgh in 2022. So I don’t buy that Hextall will continue to do nothing ahead of next Friday’s trade deadline. Will it be enough, and was it done in a timely enough fashion? Very good follow-up questions.

Kapanen and McGinn are arguably the two worst and most disappointing players on the team right now, both are currently at the bottom of the 5v5 expected goal ledger for the team. McGinn hasn’t recorded as much as a point in now over a quarter of the season. This is good places to start to make changes. I love a good hot take that mis-spells or mis-names a player (O’Connell instead of O’Connor) but it’s a point taken.

If the Pens can’t trade players due to their contracts, waiving them is a bold step. Probably impractical, but I like the mention behind it. Alex Nylander though is something of a poor man’s Kapanen — extremely questionable away from the puck — I’d quibble and lean towards Filip Hallander instead.

A bottom-six without McGinn and Kapanen and with some youth would be fun. There’s no signs the Pens are that desperate to waive established NHLers with years left, but at this point it’s not that crazy to hypothetically consider.

The Pittsburgh power play is sitting 16th in the NHL at 21.5%. They’ve also given up six goals, which is second highest in the league.

Then again, it’s also a matter of perspective. In the nine games since Kris Letang returned from injury/bereavement leave on January 24th, the Pens’ power play is clicking at 24.1% (8-for-33), which is ninth in the NHL. It’s true that the first line key players only have six of those goals (three for Evgeni Malkin, two for Sidney Crosby, one for Letang) and the second group as picked up two goals. They’ve also conceded two goals against, leaving the top guys only a +4 in PPG in the last nine games, which suddenly doesn’t look as rosy.

Is the Pens’ power play under-scrutinized? Not sure on that, it seems like they take their share of slings and arrows when times get tough — and they’re up and down enough to where they get colder than one would expect.

I will say though that almost every time the top group scores a PPG, either Malkin or Crosby is right at the net. Too often in key situations during games, neither player goes down to the high-scoring area, and the team doesn’t end up scoring. That’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Boston is a very great parallel to bring up. They’ve got an older core, and like Pittsburgh have been one of the elite teams in the 2010-23 stretch that consistently have held up well. Can the Pens learn from that “rebuild on the fly”? The Bruins did miss the playoffs two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016, which might serve as a reminder that it’s tough to turn teams around as quickly as it might seem.

This gives a great idea to track, especially if it’s a long off-season in Pittsburgh and the Bruins make a deep playoff run, there’s a great topic to dig into about where to fix what’s gone off the tracks.

As feared, this is much too rational to be a hot take! However, I do think there’s a lot to be said about a healthy Tristan Jarry helping to reverse some of the swoon the team has been in lately. And yeah, Jarry fell apart as the game went on last night, but he should get sharper as he gets into game shape. Let’s hope anyways.

Is this defense going to straighten out on its own? Would have some serious doubts about that, given that the team still has one legit left handed defender and the key vets on the right side have fluctuated in performance.

Now we’re cookin’. It’s a talking point that tends to get lost to history, but Shero’s drafting from 2010-13 was about as key to set the stage for the 2016 and 2017 Cup victories as the emergence of Mike Sullivan and the flashy trades Jim Rutherford made. Shero did a good job of toeing the line between keeping the cupboard stocked and also making immediate moves.

Then again, Pittsburgh’s biggest problem is a lack of depth and supporting players. Rounding out the lower lines, to put it kindly, was not a strong point of most Ray Shero built teams.

“The same team” take is a hot one. Guess the blue-line didn’t send John Marino and Mike Matheson out for Jeff Petry, Jan Rutta and P.O Joseph over the summer. That “same team” also had 103 points last year and won the division on a 112-point pace in 2021. Throw it all the way for goalie related small sample playoff results? Scorching!

“Zigging when literally everyone else is zagging” is a classic tenet of a good hot take, and I’m here for it. Maybe Jeff Carter isn’t the problem, everyone else is! (Well, given how McGinn and Kapanen have fared, perhaps it’s not that far-fetched). Still, say the Pens brought over Ivan Barbashev from St. Louis and/or Adam Henrique from Anaheim and put them with Carter. Or put them in the top-six and bumped Bryan Rust down with Carter. Is that going to work?

Carter’s issue is the speed of the game and hitting an age-related wall. He’s gotta be more of the problem than the solution. Then again, with his no movement clause, Carter doesn’t have to be going anywhere. Maybe there’s no actual way around that for at least this season. In that case, might as well go with the idea to build around him. From where I started with this, I can’t believe I’ve almost talked myself into seeing some logic in it. That said, the chances of such a gambit working, well it’s leaves a lot to be desired..

Let’s just be glad Sidney Crosby doesn’t subscribe to load management! Not a huge basketball guy, but isn’t Lebron the de facto GM of the Lakers? And they’re in 13th place, no? I could go for a Lebron pep talk for the players, but that would be about it.

The old “put a player in a position he doesn’t play” is a tremendous hockey fan staple. It’s fun, but what is Friedman going to do on the fourth line wing that Josh Archibald doesn’t already do in a better fashion? While not a long-term answer, this would have had more a chance when Archibald was injured.

Pending worst case scenario that seems to be unfolding before our eyes, this looks like more of an accurate prediction rather than hot take.

At a time like this, I actually appreciate a ridiculously positive spin on the situation. You don’t often see that on the big, bad internet. Pending Jarry’s health and ability to stay in one piece, something like this could well happen.

Possibly very valid, but also assumes Hextall will feel the pressure and act on it with an uncharacteristic move. That was more the style of the last GM, but this one (for better or worse) looks fine with staying true to who he is and whatever that vision in his head is.

With that said, let’s lean into just the sort of panicked hypothetical!

For as crazy as it sounds, get Chicago to take 50% retainage, and broker a third team to take 25% and Kane could be added for a $2.625 million cap hit. The money portion is actually feasible, Pittsburgh could trim that if they wanted to (bye Blueger and Heinen). That said, one key player with a possibly bum hip is more than enough for now! Kane also doesn’t play defense, but then again maybe that just makes him fit into this team even more.

But just imagine:


That would be a great NHL23 team, at least.

Reportedly Kane hasn’t even made up his mind if he wants to get traded, and there’s no real reason to think Pittsburgh would be on his radar. But you gotta start a dream somewhere in hot take land.

Korpisalo, I’m lukewarm on. Henrique would be tailor-made to help what ails the Pens at this point, especially if he has gas in the tank to be a full time center.

Instead of viewing this as a hot take, could it please just be the actual future?