I know what you're thinking. Madness! Insanity! The Penguins have the world's best player in Sidney Crosby. But hear me out before you start chartering my bus to the looney bin. People often praise Oakland Athletics' GM Billy Beane for being a trailblazer in the name of building a team outside the box. Pittsburgh Penguins' GM Jim Rutherford has an opportunity to change team's approach to building and maintaining a contender in today's salary cap based NHL.
The Pittsburgh model, a phrase coined by the ultimate phrase coiner, Mr. Truculence, Brian Burke, has undoubtedly given the Penguins some success. It is without question that more banners now hang in Pittsburgh since Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Jordan Staal were drafted. But my advocacy for the tear down of the Penguins is based on two weaknesses the current team faces. rnrnThe first problem is the salary cap. The Penguins have Crosby and Malkin locked into a comfortable 18.2 million per year combined cap hit, long term. This on paper looks extremely reasonable for the best 1-2 punch in recent NHL history. But when you factor in Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury making an additional 12.5 million, there is starting to be a little less meat on the bone left for all the other positions that need to be fed.
When we look deeper into the cap hit of the Pens, you have the Brandon Sutter problem. On the books for this year and next, he is routinely bringing the play down of those around him with his atrocious Corsi and Fenwick numbers. This could be excusable, after all Sutter is no David Clarkson by any means. The contract is only one more year, and will be off the books for good. But it has grown increasingly clear that the spare parts the Penguins have, such as Sutter, are not getting the job done.
The second major issue facing the Penguins is the deterioration of Sidney Crosby. His numerous injuries, especially the concussions, have left many pundits making the argument that Sid is not the once dominant player he was. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting Crosby is not an amazing hockey player. His resume speaks for itself. But if he is on the decline, would it not be best served for the Penguins to get out in front of this team's decay and recoup the best they can? If they do not, how long can Crosby carry a team of mainly coat-tailing B and C players like Sutter? 2 years? 3?
Ask yourself this: What would a Crosby or a Malkin fetch in a trade? Then, compare it to what you think they will fetch in 3 years. Going back to Brian Burke, if you think what he paid for Phil Kessel was high, I assure you once these two megastars hit the block, it would seem like chump change. Crosby or Malkin have the ability to single handily change the destiny of any team, both financially and on the ice. Imagine this if you will: In Arizona, a team which has been struggling to keep itself together both on and off the ice for as long as I can remember, lands itself a Sidney Crosby. You change that team forever. It would possibly usurp Gretzky to LA as the single largest trade in NHL history. Can you name a price on that for Arizona? I assure, you pay through the teeth they would. The Penguins have an opportunity to amass a larger wealth of draft picks and prospects right now than anyone ever has in the history of the NHL.
With Crosby possibly trending towards the inevitable decline of his career, and the Penguins failing to surround he and Malkin with the pieces they need to win, it makes sense to get out in front of this and maximize returns on the dynamic duo. Pittsburgh's proverbial cupboard could be stocked for a decade, and they could regain their status as Eastern Conference powerhouse sooner rather than later. Much like the Boston Bruins, the Penguins are not a fear to anyone. It is very doubtful with their current roster they will be competing with up and comers like Tampa Bay, Detroit, or even Montreal anytime soon. They have been relegated to a middle of the pack team at best, and it is time to make some hard but smart decisions. Make no mistake, as things stand you will not see Crosby lift another cup in Pittsburgh. The Penguins should seize the day and start planning for a rich future instead of an average present.