Shero calls 11-12 his “most frustrating and disappointing season”

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If there’s a morale to the first round, it’s that there’s no such thing as a team of destiny in the post-lockout NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to stay competitive all season despite some significant injuries — the most notable of which was of course Sidney Crosby’s concussion. The idea was that if they got healthy in time for the playoffs, then they would be the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Their top players were all available for the start of the postseason, but of course, the Philadelphia Flyers bested them, much to the dismay of Penguins GM Ray Shero.

“At the end of the year here for me that that is the most frustrating and disappointing that I’ve ever had. I’ve been a (general manager) for six years, an assistant (general manager) for 14 before that. This is the first year I’ve address the team after the season with what my feelings were. That was Monday. Yesterday was a little bit better. This morning, I’m still very displeased with how the season ended for us. Not a good person to be around right now.”

What might make the Penguins’ first round exit even tougher for Shero to swallow is the fact that his team’s golden window of opportunity might be closing. That might seem like a silly notion given how young their core players are, but keeping Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal all under contract on top of James Neal, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andrew Fleury might prove to be difficult, especially if the salary cap is reduced as a result of the next CBA.

None of those players are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer, but Crosby and Staal’s contracts will expire in the summer of 2013 while Malkin’s contract will end after the 2013-14 campaign.

“I’m certainly on record, I’d love to keep all three but in a practical world with a salary cap, that remains to be seen,” Shero said.

Ultimately, the issue won’t even be whether or not the Penguins can keep them. It’s whether or not they should. Holding on to that much star talent will rob them of potential cap space that could be otherwise used to build their core.

It’s something that might be in the back of their minds as they gear up for 2012-13.