Penguins Blog: Stories I Didn't Publish (2024)

There are a dozen different issues with the Pittsburgh Penguins, not the least of which is the collision of perceptions and results between the first 68 games and the last 14. The Penguins stunk. And then they didn’t as they began to win the battles not only against their opponents but themselves.

It was two entirely different teams contained within one season.

And there begins the Penguins offseason, but it’s also time to clear the cache of things I didn’t report, didn’t write, or wanted to write. It’s worth looking at the darkest two weeks of the franchise in recent memory. Perhaps not since the last days of coach Mike Johnston, which preceded coach Mike Sullivan’s arrival, or the bitter turmoil following the 2012 playoff loss to the Philadephia Flyers had things been so uncertain and off the rails.

Early March certainly had more chaos and upheaval than I’ve ever witnessed with any Penguins team. Sullivan admitted more than he’s ever said before, though in classic muted tones. He only conceded, “They’re human.”

I wrote three articles that I didn’t publish over a six-day span. In the fury of the moment, what felt true in one minute did not in the next. Also, I know you pretty well. One story just wasn’t worth the public scorn, though it proved to be legitimate.

Before closing the book on the 2023-24 season, it is worth remembering how bad things were and indirectly providing context for the late rebound.

Penguins Trade?

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The story included the following paragraphs:

“Should the Pittsburgh Penguins claim Kuznetsov off waivers? No, and hell no. The worst-case scenario is a summer buyout which would cost the Penguins a $4 million on the 2024-25 salary cap and another $2 million on the 2025-26 cap.

The Penguins have enough deadweight on their books. However, there is a condition under which the Penguins could add Kuznetsov and add secondary benefits: A trade.”

A few days later, the Carolina Hurricanes gave up a third-round pick, but the Capitals ate 50% of Kuznetsov’s salary. Carolina gambled and won, but good teams can do that. It seems like players find their stride on good teams far more often than they find them on struggling teams. Call it the aura or contagious positivity.

Quite frankly, everyone was so disgusted with the Penguins and so angry over their blown lead against the Calgary Flames, which became the death knell in Jake Guentzel’s Penguins career, that I pulled the story. It would have been like wearing neon shorts to a funeral.

It was an opportunity for the Penguins to dump a contract. Still, one could also imagine Sullivan openly chugging prescription-strength antacids on the bench due to the ulcers that came from putting Evgeni Malkin and Kuznetsov on a line together or the results of having middle six centermen with the defensive awareness of Malkin and Kuznetsov.

Mike Sullivan

I wrote it on March 10 following the Penguins no-show home loss to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-0. The score wasn’t that close, and it was a day after a 5-1 loss in Boston. You wanted to read it. But I held the column for a few days. And then the world changed again. I’m glad I didn’t hit publish too soon.

I fully understand why fans were/are pointing the finger at Sullivan. Things were so bleak that, short of trading 19 players, an exasperated public could do nothing, short of turning the channel or giving up.

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I’m glad I held the story. It wasn’t the wrong opinion, but even at that moment, there was just a little bit of doubt, and the Penguins’ late-season rally proved Dubas’s patience to be a solid play. I won’t guarantee that uncomfortable conversation won’t happen next season, and someday it is likely to happen, but it was a good lesson for me to avoid the furor of the moment.

Too Harsh?

Even after I held the Sullivan column, there was another hammer I was ready to drop. This one was on March 7, the night the Penguins traded Guentzel. The team just laid down in a 6-0 loss to the Washington Capitals. I discussed the headline with colleague Dave Molinari, who often acts as a mentor or steadying hand. He had no problem with the headline, but we didn’t have enough time to get to the story, and a “writer” in the media room who overheard our discussion–more my debate with myself if being so harsh was appropriate–liked my column so much that they poached the headline.

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It turns out that the Penguins found themselves, and their hopelessness became hope. I held the line that it was possible, but I surely was not going to bet on it.

Hey, it’s not an easy job. I have to filter the emotions of the team and the passions and reactions of the fans while trying to keep my bearings of logic and analysis. But this job is also a hell of a lot of fun, even in the darkest moments of the subjects.

Perhaps being a fan is just as fun, especially for a team that is never … ever … boring.

Penguins Blog: Stories I Didn't Publish (2024)
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