Whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins actually make the 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs (I still think they will) it seems pretty clear that given their current roster construction they are not going to be lifting the Stanley Cup this season.
Even worse, they do not seem to be on that tier of contenders that would have the best chance of actually doing that. They seem significantly behind teams like Boston, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Colorado, while their flaws seem to become even more glaring with each loss.
Ron Hextall tried to build a contender around what is left of the careers of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, and it is becoming quite clear that he failed to do so in a pretty significant way.
The bottom-six is as bad as it has been in nearly a decade.
He kept the same goaltending duo that has been their undoing two postseasons in a row.
The one area of the team that he did try to significantly address with new faces this offseason (the defense) has turned out to be a mess.
The damning indictment of his poor roster construction, though, might be the simple fact that he has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel all signed for a salary cap hit of less than $28 million (an absolute bargain for what they all still produce), and he has still managed to build a horribly flawed roster with limited salary cap space to fix it.
When you have your top four players signed for that sort of price, and when all of them are still All-Star level talents, and when you do not have a single player on your team making more than $8.7 million and only one player making more than $7 million, that should be an ENORMOUS advantage under the salary cap. You have your core pieces for well below market value and should have a ton of flexibility to build around them.
But Hextall has nickel and dimed that advantage away by making several small overpays on the wrong players that have not been positive contributors in any way.
A multi-year, $3 million per year contract for Kasperi Kapanen that was almost universally looked at as a mistake the minute pen was put to paper on it. We were seriously discussing not qualifying him an offer as an RFA and letting him go. And Hextall brought him back for two years.
The two-year contract extension for an aging Jeff Carter who was already showing signs of slowing down.
The Brock McGinn experience.
Even going back a year ago to the expansion draft process that ultimately cost the Penguins two players (Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann) and resulted in the aforementioned signing of McGinn, an inferior player to both of them.
Even if he did well to get Malkin, Letang, Rakell, and Rust re-signed for a decent rate (and even if the Rakell trade was a strong move) pretty much every move that has accompanied that has turned out to blow up in their faces.
He has also shown no urgency to try and fix some of these messes, as the Penguins pretty much continue to trot out the same lineup every night in largely the same order.
It is everything Philadelphia Flyers fans warned us about with Hextall.
There was a real opportunity to here to try and build something around your core and give them one more serious run at competing for a championship, and it has largely been squandered away.
Barring some sort of stunning trade deadline performance or turnaround in the second half I have not seen a compelling argument to keep Hextall around next season.
Given the situation Hextall has put the Penguins in right now, do you even want to see him try and do something over the next week?
I have been pretty aggressive in my stance that since the Penguins committed to this core again they need to make a serious effort to try and win, and the first-round pick should be aggressively shopped. And I think I still believe that. But I also recognize that there is probably not much that can be done this season to fix the flaws here. So I do not want to see the Penguins chasing rentals.
Luke Schenn, James van Riemsdyk (or any other former Flyer Ron Hextall can think of), or Max Domi do not really excite me that much.
I would, however, like to see the Penguins make a serious push for somebody that still has term (or team control) beyond this season remaining on their deal. I know players like Timo Meier and Jakob Chychrun are probably a dream scenario, but the Penguins could make either of them work with a little creativity and effort. They have a lot of money coming off the books after this season, and if they can find a way to dump even one of those bad contracts it would create even more flexibility.
If you can get somebody with term or that you know will be around next season (Chychrun, Meier, Adam Henrique) you might be in a position where you can start fresh and maybe fill some of those holes that still remain.
On the other hand.... do you want to see Hextall be responsible for acquiring another significant piece when he has already failed so badly?
Doing nothing and hoping for a fresh start with a new general manager might also be an approach you support.
Either way, it is becoming pretty clear that whatever Hextall’s vision for this particular Penguins team was he badly failed in accomplishing it.