This is not the time for Penguins to make major changes


Not all playoff losses are created equal.

Sure, the end result might be the same. It might leave you just as disappointed. But the path you take to get there can be very different. That path should — should! — be considered when you are picking up the pieces and trying to figure out what to do next. If you are not careful you can misread a situation or a result and do something that sets your team back and significantly hurts its chances the next season or beyond.

Sometimes you just get beat because you are not good enough or did not play well enough.

Maybe you had some injuries at the wrong time or just ran into the wrong team.

Or perhaps you played well enough to give yourself a chance to win and were simply done in by the ultimate X-Factor and great equalizer come playoff time — goaltending.

That brings us to the 2020-21 Pittsburgh Penguins, who for the third year in a row will not be advancing to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after being eliminated by the New York Islanders in six games on Wednesday night.

[Related: Islanders advance to Second Round]

You will probably hear a lot of narratives in the coming days, weeks, and months as to why they lost. They were not big enough. They were not strong enough. The core players are too old. They did not have the commitment to defense that the Islanders have. They could not finish or score enough goals.

Just about all of them will be wrong.

The bottom line is this: They lost because two goalies did what goalies do come playoff time and significantly impacted the result of a series. In other words, they got goalie’d.

It will be easy to take that statement as an opportunity to pile on Tristan Jarry who had a completely miserable postseason experience. That experience was capped off by a brutal overtime gaffe in a pivotal Game 5, and a terrible Game 6 performance where he never gave his team a chance. He struggled. There is a strong argument to be made that the Penguins played well enough to win Games 1, 5, and 6 of the series, only to lose because they could not get a single save when they needed it.


But it was not just about Jarry struggling.

It was also just as much about the other goalie in the series, New York’s Ilya Sorokin, taking a big step toward the stardom the Islanders have been hoping for. He was sensational, and it seems likely that the net is his moving forward. The combination of him and Barry Trotz is going to make the Islanders a headache to deal with every year for the foreseeable future.

When one team’s goalie struggles, and the other team’s goalie plays at an exceptional level, there is not much else that is going to happen in a series that is going to change the result.

When you look at the numbers in this series the Penguins had a significant edge in most categories, including shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, expected goals, and high-danger chances. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Wednesday that outside of one game where they would have liked a better effort (almost certainly Game 4) they really liked their game every night in the series. And he is right to think that way, because there was nothing wrong with the way they played. They just didn’t get the result.

Now it is going to be up to the new management team of general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke to figure out why they didn’t get the result and take the appropriate action. And that is where things are going to get interesting.

They have no loyalty to anybody in the organization. They did not win championships with any of these players or coaches. It is a fresh start and a clean slate for them to operate without emotion. Do they think this is a team that needs broken up after another early exit? Or do they see an otherwise strong team that is still a contender that simply lost a goaltending battle in a best of seven series?

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]

There already seems to be something brewing as Burke and Hextall seem to have a different vision for what the team should look like when compared to the head coach. Burke has repeatedly talked about getting bigger and having a team that “doesn’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” He has always wanted teams that play a certain style and have a certain build to them. That seems to run counter to the way Sullivan wants the Penguins to play, and he even made the comment after Game 6 that they didn’t lose the series because they were not big enough.

There is also the yearly talk of whether or not it is time to break up the core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang.

But if you conclude, rightfully, that this series was won and lost in the goal crease, why would you want want — or need — to make that sort of seismic shift with the roster? For starters, Crosby, Malkin, and Letang are all still high level players. Maybe not as dominant as they were five years ago, but still upper tier players. They are still the foundation and players you can win with. They have at least a couple of more runs in them. Aside from the fact that you would almost certainly lose any trade you make with them, there are not many examples of teams that trade a player of that caliber and get better as a result of it. If you trade one of them, you are signaling that you are starting the rebuild. This is not a team that needs to do that just yet because, despite the results this postseason, it is still good enough to compete.

The supporting cast around Crosby, Malkin, and Letang is as good as it has been since the back-to-back Stanley Cups. They go four deep at center, they can roll four lines, and while the defense is not exceptional and has its flaws, it is still very good. Certainly good enough to compete if they just get some goaltending. If you can see that and still think you need to make sweeping changes you are not acting rationally, you are just making knee-jerk changes for the sake of changes.

This team does not need a teardown, or a shakeup, or a break up.

It needs goaltending first and foremost. It needs to navigate the expansion draft and figure out who goes to Seattle. And if an opportunity to improve presents itself, it should be explored. But beyond that? It should not be looking to dismantle things. It needs the rationality that does not always exist after a postseason loss to know why they did not win.

Goaltending. It will cover the flaws you do have, and it will make you think you have flaws that do not exist.

If the Penguins are not careful with how they approach this offseason they could find themselves being blinded by the latter, and fully closing their championship “window” before they need to do so.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

flyers trade
Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

— Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

— Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

“We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

“Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

“I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

“They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

“He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

“We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

“I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

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MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.