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Looking ahead for the Pittsburgh Penguins: Time for a seismic change?

Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention -- either mathematically or by losing in the postseason -- we'll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2018-19, along with three keys to its offseason, impact prospects for 2019-20 and a way-too-early prediction for what next season will hold.


What went wrong

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford knew his roster wasn't quite right early on this season, and spent much of the campaign tinkering with it. Pittsburgh tried to upgrade its defense, signing Jack Johnson over the summer and taking a flier on Erik Gudbranson at the trade deadline. Rutherford also added Marcus Pettersson for the (underutilized) Daniel Sprong. The Penguins added young forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

While many of the moves have worked out, it also felt as though Pittsburgh trended away from a hallmark of its back-to-back Stanley Cups: speed. The Penguins are a much slower team these days, missing guys like Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary. Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are all in their 30s, and not getting any faster.

The blue line was often banged up, which was problematic. Secondary scoring was an issue. Matt Murray struggled early, and though he showed glimpses, never fully returned to his shutdown form.

In the first-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders, the Penguins fell to a team with much less talent because they couldn't match the compete level. The stars, specifically Crosby and wingman Jake Guentzel, were stymied. It culminated with an unceremonious playoff exit and plenty of questions; could this be it for the Penguins' championship-winning core?