What are the Pittsburgh Penguins thinking?

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What are the Pittsburgh Penguins thinking?

It’s a question I’ve thrown around the past few days. Why the Penguins are at the forefront in a Stanley Cup Playoffs field they didn’t make it to would’ve been beyond normal comprehension; but that’s what happens when you send the lot for Kasperi Kapanen.

The Penguins acquired Kapanen, who they selected with the No. 22 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the rights to Pontus Aberg and defenseman Jesper Lindgren from the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, Evan Rodrigues and prospects David Warsofsky and Filip Hallander.

“Kasperi is a good, young player that brings speed to our lineup and plays the way we want to play,” said Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. “Having previously drafted him, we know him as a player and feel he can improve our top-6. Aberg and Lindgren are both young players that will further add to our organizational depth.”

What we have here are two franchises who have more questions than answers. Both didn’t make it out of the qualifying round, both haven’t seen the second round of the playoffs in what seems like forever. Quarantine will do that to you.

But the fact we’re talking about the Maple Leafs winning a trade on the Penguins says a lot about what Rutherford has done the past couple of seasons and the trajectory of the franchise.

The Penguins can remain competitive. For as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are wearing the black and yellow, they’re going to be good. If not for the pause, the Penguins would’ve been contending for the Stanley Cup. The trade for Jason Zucker added reinforcements to their top six, albeit at the cost of a first-round pick.

But that’s the thing: the lack of draft capital is the problem. Barring any moves before the draft, Pittsburgh has four picks in this draft and is without its first, second and seventh. In 2021, the Penguins have four total picks, as well — two in the seventh round, a second and fifth.

Rutherford is banking on the next two years without filling the Penguins’ prospect pool in the process. What’s wild is that the Penguins are of the belief that Kapanen and Zucker are worth two first-round picks, and if Rutherford believes Kapanen — who, again, he drafted six years ago only to flip him that same year for Phil Kessel, which worked out well in the end — is the right player to elevate Pittsburgh back to championship status, then that will be evaluated in the coming years and be judged accordingly.

Right now, early returns suggest this won’t end well for the Penguins. A franchise predicated on winning the Stanley Cup each year, the Penguins have lost nine of their last 10 playoff games. The roller coaster has been bumpy; finally lose to the Washington Capitals, get swept by the New York Islanders and then lose to the No. 12 seed Montreal Canadiens in a qualifying series. None of this has been easy. It’s about to get harder.

Penguins fans have been spoiled this century with the longevity of success and championship parades. It’s not easy for teams to go through what’s not necessarily a rebuild, but borderline contention that screams hockey torture.

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Who knows? The Penguins could win the Cup and raise a banner that says, “We traded two first-round picks for Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen, bow down to Jim Rutherford’s greatness.”

Right now? Not likely.


Avalanche vs. Stars: It’s Game 6 of what has evolved into a wild series. Colorado clawed its way back into it with a five-goal, first-period blitz in Game 5 that chased Ben Bishop from the Dallas net back to the bench and third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson played well enough to preserve a 6-3 win.

The Avs are still facing elimination but it may be the Stars who are suddenly looking over their collective shoulder. They had their No. 1 guy in net, they were facing a third-stringer at the other end and wound up getting drubbed.

Anton Khudobin should be back in net for Game 6, and that should stabilize things. Dallas needs to play a better first period. Khudobin should provide that, allowing his team to advance to the conference finals. STARS

Last week: No record (Games postponed)

Season: 40-38 

About the Author
Danny Webster

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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