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Greg Thornberry The Hockey Writers

Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2016





Pittsburgh Penguins Evolving Core

Nobody could have predicted the circumstances that led us to this point. Marc-Andre Fleury’s concussion leading to Matt Murray’s historic charge to a Stanley Cup. The NHL forcing Pittsburgh into a corner with an expansion draft. Now it appears that Fleury and Murray are going opposite directions in regards to quality of play. All signs are pointing, possibly more dramatically than ever, towards a move being made sooner than later.

Last March I wrote that fans should appreciate Marc-Andre Fleury in his waning moments as a Penguin. That sentiment still holds true, but the reasoning behind it has changed dramatically.

In the Core No More

Fleury’s eventual departure marks not only the end of an era in goal, but the biggest change to this generation’s core group. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, and Fleury carried the weight of the franchise’s hopes and dreams for many years. During this group’s infancy, I predicted that Crosby would be the only one to retire in a Penguins uniform, and I stand by that to this day.

Staal eventually wanted to be moved out from the bottom of the three-center model, and took the first piece out of the equation. While it would be nice to see Malkin and Letang stay in Pittsburgh, players just don’t stay with one team like they used to. Crosby is not likely going anywhere. He is as much the face of the Penguins as Mario Lemieux once was. No, I am not advocating a trade for any of the aforementioned players, I’m just thinking realistically.

2016 and Beyond

So what does the Penguins’ core look like now, and in the future? Clearly Crosby, Malkin, and Letang are still here. Matt Murray should be added to the imaginary list. Even if you don’t factor in Phil Kessel’s play, which is pretty darn special, he is going to be here a long time and will be paid a ton of money, which qualifies him by default. With these players the Penguins will be in a good position to contend for championships for a few more years. Once I would have considered Olli Maatta to eventually be in this group, but it does not appear that that is meant to be. Eventually, Jake Guentzel and Daniel Sprong could step into the “untouchable” realm.

It truly does appear that a Fleury trade will ultimately be what is best for the franchise. It is just not fun to watch a player leave that has contributed so much to the team and the city. I have personally witnessed “Flower” go out of his way to sign autographs for extended periods of time, while the majority of his teammates avoided the situation like the plague. He is truly a great player, and a better person.

Also consider that, albeit slowly, the original core of the Sidney Crosby era is ageing and will eventually move on. The moral of this story is that many of us should start feeling old. It feels like last week that we were watching Mario, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, and Tom Barrasso, and yesterday a ping-pong ball changed the fate of hockey in Pittsburgh.

Time waits for no man. Just appreciate the moment.

Side Rants

  • I will say it again: I despise this NHL expansion draft. It would have made more sense to move another team **cough, Arizona, cough** than to disrupt the rest of the league. I do understand that there is financial compensation involved, but I still consider the draft to be player-poaching. It is forcing the Penguins into a less-than-favorable situation with Fleury, and will ultimately lead to the loss of a player of at least some value. There are so many things that the league needs to be focusing on to improve the game before putting another team in the desert.
  • I’m hearing a significant amount of negativity towards Fleury of late. This is not a Rob Scuderi or Craig Adams situation. The mood from the early stages of the season until now shows how fickle some fans can be. MAF should be in the Hall of Fame when his career ends, and I for one have appreciated watching him for all these years.


Until next time.

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