What’s Next for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Penguins Forward Bryan Rust Talking to Bench Before Face-off
Penguins Forward Bryan Rust Talking to Bench Before Face-off

The 2023-24 season was supposed to be a bounce-back year for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A frustrating 2022-23 season where Sidney Crosby and the Penguins missed the playoffs for the first time since Sid’s rookie season led the Penguins to make some much-needed changes on and off the ice. Injuries, age, and an extremely questionable special teams ultimately landed the Pens just shy of a playoff seat for the second season in a row, a career first for Crosby.

The first move the Penguins made was clearing the front office and hiring a new president of hockey operations and general manager. Kyle Dubas, formally of the Toronto Maple Leafs, came in and immediately made flashy moves to offload some less desirable contracts. This was to be able to sign new players like Ryan Graves, Lars Eller, and Alex Nedeljkovic, as well as a blockbuster trade to acquire the most recent Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson. There was a lot to be excited about heading into this season.

Opening night felt like a precursor to what this season would eventually become. The Penguins came out strong, getting goals from Bryan Rust and Sidney Crosby, only for the Chicago Blackhawks to storm back in the last half of the game to ultimately defeat the Penguins 2-4. The Penguins would go on to lose games after leading by one or more goals in 21 games, which is just over a quarter of the games this season. There were only four teams with a worse stat than the Penguins.

The Penguins had issues all over the lineup, but the main issues seemed to have been a lack of chemistry with the influx of new faces as well as a lack of urgency by the players. Crosby had another great year which is unsurprising, but the rest of the crew behind him seemed to need a new voice in the room to get them to follow their captain’s lead. Many speculated longtime head coach, Mike Sullivan, and associate coach, Todd Reirden, were on their way out after a lackluster start to the season, but no moves were made during the season.

The Penguins finished the season 38-32-12, earning fifth in the Metropolitan Division, tenth in the Eastern Conference, and nineteenth in the league with a total of 88 points. This is three points less than their record from the 22-23 season and fifteen points from the last time the Pens made it to the postseason. So where can the Penguins go from here?

There are two main options for GM, Kyle Dubas: attempt yet another retool or begin the rebuild.

In essence, the Penguins have been attempting to retool or restructure for the past few seasons, and have continued to spiral since. It didn’t help that the previous GM, Ron Hextall, handed out and took on unnecessary hefty contracts that are still being dealt with today. Dubas has so far been successful at offloading those contracts but continues to navigate around Rickard Rakell, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang’s lengthy contracts. 

Honestly, the team had great moments amidst the ugly ones. A new voice of direction is what these players truly need. The firing of Todd Reirden on May 3 was a start, but it’s going to take each player, along with Mike Sullivan, to adjust and put in the work to get this squad back into shape. A retool can work, but the right pieces need to be in place for it to happen.

The rebuild is imminent. Pittsburgh has been in the playoff picture since 2007 and a true contender for the Cup for the majority of those years. It was bound to happen eventually, but with Sid continuing to elevate and evolve his game as he grows deeper into his 30s, the Penguins have been postponing the inevitable. Dubas has already been making moves to repopulate the next generation of Penguins.

The Jake Guentzel trade to the Carolina Hurricanes at the deadline was a part of that effort. The Penguins gave up a major piece of their lineup in exchange for Michael Bunting, prospects Vasily Ponomarev and Ville Koivunen, the rights to Cruz Lucius, and two conditional draft picks, which have ultimately become a 2024 second-round pick. Dubas has also been active in picking up younger pieces off waiver claims like John Ludvig and Jansen Harkins.

Dubas still has a lot of cleaning to do to get this team back on track. In the next two seasons, the Penguins have twelve expiring contracts, including Sidney Crosby, so there is a lot of movement available. Being able to change and adapt to new faces and voices is the key to future success for the Penguins. Keep an eye on this squad this summer, as Dubas is sure to be making moves and adjustments to get this team back into shape for a possible last attempt at hoisting Lord Stanley for this legendary lineup.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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