Is this the last hoorah for the big three in Pittsburgh?

Every year since 2018, the question of if this is the final year the Penguins will be competitive always gets asked. Ever since that question was first asked following their 2017 Finals win, the Pens have continued to make all the doubters wrong and make the playoffs. However, they haven’t been able to get past the 1st round in recent seasons. The last time the Pens made the second round was 2018, which was a six-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals. Since then, the Penguins have gotten swept in the First Round by the Islanders in 2019, lost in 4 games in the Qualifying Round by the Montreal Canadiens in 2020, and lost again to the Isles in the First Round last season in 6 games. Now to the present day, they are set to play the Rangers and are vastly considered underdogs. The Penguins have only won 5 games since the beginning of April but have won three out of their last five games. 

The End Of An Era?

Typically, the Penguins have been able to go into next season, with most of the team staying the same. However, this off-season will be a lot different for GM Ron Hextall. This off-season, franchise D Kris Letang, newly acquired F Rickard Rakell, and F Bryan Rust are all notable Unrestricted Free-Agents that the Penguins will have to decide what to do with after this season, and that doesn’t even include superstar F Evgeni Malkin, who’s been the backbone at Center behind Captain Sidney Crosby for his whole career. The Penguins’ top priority will be signing Malkin and Letang, but Rakell, who had four goals and 13 points in 19 games since being acquired on March 21st, and Rust, who had 24 goals and 58 points in 60 games this season, could look to get a decent-sized contract with their play this season. Malkin is a superstar all by himself and could either take a pay cut to return to Pittsburgh or look to become a 1C on a team and get paid. Letang is also having his best statistical season in his career, with new career highs in assists (58) and points (68), and could be looking for upwards of a 5-year, 7M dollar contract. At 35 years old, the risk of giving him that type of contract could be something the Penguins don’t do, and he could elect to go to another team that could give him that type of deal. 

Final Thoughts

While it is not definite, it looks more likely than any other season that this could be the final year with the Penguins being competitive with the big 3. Between losing one of the 3 in free agency or losing other key pieces to resign the 2 of the 3, it seems like the glory days of the Penguins making the playoffs every season look pretty good as gone. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be looking back on writing this and laughing at how wrong I was. Let’s go out and enjoy this series against the Rangers and hope for the best. 

Nik Shermeto

PT ‘23 | 🇺🇸/🇨🇦 | Penguins writer for Inside The Rink | Thoughts are my own.

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