Matt Hunwick

AP

The Buzzer: Armia hat trick; Sheary revenge

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Three Stars

1. Joel Armia, Montreal Canadiens. Joel Armia entered play on Friday night with only seven goals in his first 39 games this season, so he probably wouldn’t have been the player you would have expected to drive the offense in the Montreal Canadiens’ 4-2 win over the New York Rangers. But there he was, recording the first ever hat trick of his career to help the Canadiens get a massive two points in the standings as they look to distance themselves between the other Wild Card contenders in the Eastern Conference.

2. Conor Sheary Buffalo Sabres. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in trouble, and on Friday night lost their second game in a week where they held a lead in the final five minutes. The player that ended up topping them in this game was one they traded over the summer. Conor Sheary, who spent the past three seasons playing in Pittsburgh, including two as a Stanley Cup champion, scored a pair of goals on Friday including the game-winning goal in overtime. The Penguins traded him and Matt Hunwick to the Sabres in what amounted to a salary dump trade and it ended up working against them on Friday.

3. Marcus Sorensen, San Jose Sharks. The San Jose Sharks gained a little bit of ground on the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division race on Friday night with a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Joe Pavelski‘s late power play goal goes in the books as the game-winner, but Marcus Sorensen had a big night with a pair of goals. It is the first two-goal game of his career.

Highlights of the Night

His team did not get the extra point it so badly needed but Sidney Crosby did score a pretty ridiculous power play goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Check out the passing display here by the Vegas Golden Knights to score on the power play against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.

Just because it is worth seeing one more time, Evander Holyfield took part in the Carolina Hurricanes’ most recent Storm Surge celebration.

Factoids

  • Carey Price is now one win away from tying Jacques Plante for the most wins in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Ovechkin scored his 45th goal of the season, giving him nine 45-goal seasons which is the most in NHL history. That goal was also 106th game-winning goal of his career, tying him with Patrick Marleau for the seventh-most all-time. [NHL PR]
  • Sebastien Aho scored the game-winning goal for the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, and it was not only one of the weirdest goals we will see in the NHL all season, it was also his fourth shorthanded goal of the season. That is tied for the second most in a single season in franchise history, going all the way back to the Hartford Whalers days. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 6, New Jersey Devils 3

Washington Capitals 3, New York Islanders 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, New York Rangers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 5, St. Louis Blues 2

Winnipeg Jets 5, Nashville Predators 3

Vegas Golden Knights 3, Anaheim Ducks 0

San Jose Sharks 4, Colorado Avalanche 3

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

Constant roster shuffling makes Penguins look directionless

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Success at a championship level in professional sports is not only a rare and short-lived thing, it also tends to be quickly and easily forgotten when the winning stops. Or at least when it slows down. So with that in mind we really need to talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins because this is a team that seems to be quickly trending in the wrong direction.

Just two years ago they were doing something that had not been done in the NHL in two full decades by winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup, capping off an incredible run of hockey that was driven by a core of superstar players and a series of roster moves that worked out to near perfection. The acquisitions of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, and a host of call-ups from the AHL were all home runs (or close to it), resulting in a stable, successful roster with very little turnover from 2016 to 2017. Other than the additions of Jake Guentzel (call-up) and Ron Hainsey (trade), it was mostly the same team.

But following the 2017 championship the salary cap, free agency, and what has seemingly been a curious change in direction from the recipe that produced back-to-back championships has stripped the team of most of its depth, and the front office has badly struggled to replace it. The result has been two years of constant roster shuffling that has left the team on the playoff bubble and facing a daunting stretch run that includes six games against the teams they are competing with for a playoff spot (three against Columbus, two against Carolina, one against Montreal) and a number of games against some top-tier teams. Those head-to-head matchups will go a long way toward making or breaking their season, which is a stunning thing to be saying about this team with this core in late February.

Making matters worse in the short-term is the fact they are currently playing without three of their top-four defenders as Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Olli Maatta are all sidelined for an undetermined amount of time. That situation likely had at least a little something to do with the continued roster shuffling at Monday’s trade deadline when they flipped Tanner Pearson to the Vancouver Canucks for Erik Gudbranson.

The move was not well received by … well … anyone.

The focus of the criticism has been centered around what Gudbranson can actually bring to the table. Objectively speaking, his career performance has not lived up to the status of a former top-five draft pick. His underlying numbers are among the worst in the league at his position, and the eye test isn’t any more forgiving.

By Gudbranson’s own admission on the way out of Vancouver he was not good enough during his time there.

There is legitimate cause for concern with him as a player.

But focusing on Gudbranson misses the bigger problem in Pittsburgh right now, and that problem is that over the past two years nearly every single roster transaction the team has made has been a failure.

In some cases a spectacular failure.

[Related: Pearson for Gudbranson trade looks ugly for Penguins … on paper]

We know this is true because they keep having to make more trades to undo all of the roster transactions in an effort to correct them.

The cost the Penguins paid to actually get Gudbranson from Vancouver is irrelevant. I don’t know of any other way to put this without sounding like a jerk — so I will just say it and sound like a jerk — but Tanner Pearson is a mostly forgettable, run-of-the-mill NHL player. He might score 15-20 goals for your team, he might finish with 40 points, and within a year of him being on your roster you will probably forget he was ever on your roster until you go down a Hockey-Reference rabbit hole and say, “oh, hey, remember that guy?”

But the Penguins had just acquired that guy two months earlier in exchange for Carl Hagelin, a move that in hindsight looks like it was only done to shake up a core that had maybe gotten too comfortable with itself. Hagelin had his flaws as a player, but he was a huge part of the team’s identity, a popular player in the locker room, a player who won championships with the team, and a player who could still play a capable shut down role and bring the type of defensive conscious so many of the team’s forwards currently lack.

That is not nothing. He was also an expiring contract after this season. Put it all together and that means within a span of two months the Penguins turned a somewhat useful player that was still a part of their identity and what would have been $4M in salary cap space next season into a player whose potential contributions are suspect at best, detrimental at worst, who will be taking up every penny of that salary cap space in each of the next two seasons.

Pearson’s arrival and almost immediate departure was the eighth time since the start of the 2017-18 offseason that the Penguins acquired an NHL player and then jettisoned them within a year.

  • Ryan Reaves, acquired on June 23, 2017 — traded on February 23, 2018
  • Matt Hunwick, signed on July 1, 2017 — traded on June 27, 2018
  • Antti Niemi, signed on July 1, 2017 — waived on October 24, 2017
  • Riley Sheahan, acquired on October 1, 2017 — traded on February 1, 2019
  • Jamie Oleksiak, acquired on December 19, 2017 — traded on January 28, 2019 (it was literally the same trade!)
  • Derick Brassard, acquired on February 23, 2018 — traded on February 1, 2019
  • Derek Grant, signed on July 19, 2018 — traded on January 17, 2019
  • Tanner Pearson, acquired on November 14, 2018 — traded on February 25, 2019

It is not unfair to look at that list and that series of transactions and come to the conclusion that there is a problem somewhere in the organization, whether it is with the pro scouting, or with the coaching staff, or with the final decision-making, or with what they are looking for in players. Something is clearly off here. What other conclusion can you possibly come to?

A team that just two years ago was winning with speed, skill, and puck-moving defense keeps trying to find grit and toughness and keeps making itself slower and less mobile.

The one transaction that was made during this stretch that hasn’t yet been undone, the signing of Jack Johnson, might be the most damaging of the bunch and it’s probably only a matter of when, and not if, that ends in a buyout or a trade.

This much roster turnover and shuffling of players can not be a sustainable way to run a franchise, mostly because it doesn’t even take into account the collateral damage that has come with working to “fix” those trades. They lost Conor Sheary, Hagelin, Ian Cole, and Oskar Sundqvist as part of those transactions, and have also given up a boat load of draft picks and a top prospect (goalie Filip Gustavsson) along the way.

As of now, they have gained Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad, and Gudbranson out of it all, with the latter two taking up more than $8M in salary cap space over the next couple of years for a team that is already pressed against the salary cap because of their superstars. Will they be worth it? And what other trades will have to be made and what other assets will be given up if (or when) they are not? Because if recent history is any indicator there is almost no chance they finish their current contracts wearing Penguins uniforms.

Maybe they don’t make this latest trade for Gudbranson if the injury situation isn’t what it is. But even with that it’s bizarre to try and plug a short-term hole by acquiring a player with this on-ice track record with this much term and this much money left on their deal. There are other ways to plug a hole without tying up significant cap space in future years.

And quite honestly, if Gudbranson’s play doesn’t show dramatic improvement upon his arrival in Pittsburgh there is an argument to be made they would have been better off just staying with what they had. They might have been better off had they simply done nothing since the start of last offseason because at least then they might have more salary cap space, more assets to deal from, and it’s hard to imagine their spot in the standings being any worse because as of now they are only going as far as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a healthy Letang can carry them.

Rutherford has built three Cup winning teams in the NHL, and that is not only a big part of his story as an executive, it commands respect. It will probably be enough to someday get him a call to the Hall of Fame (how many three-time Cup winning general managers are not in?)

But it doesn’t leave him above criticism when it is warranted.

Based on where the Penguins are and the series of moves that have been made over the past two years the criticism is definitely warranted because his team looks like it doesn’t know what it is, where it is going, or how it should get there.

MORE: Winners and losers of the NHL trade deadline

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

Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL trade deadline

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Well, that was fun. The 2019 NHL trade deadline is over and 20 deals involving 32 players were made on Monday featuring plenty of buyers and sellers. There were a number of of trades in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, which has some teams strengthening for a Stanley Cup run and others eyeing the future as they hope they are in the midst of building a contender.

As the dust settles, let’s take a look at some winners and losers from the 2019 NHL trade deadline.

WINNER: Columbus Blue Jackets fans

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have given no indication they’ll re-sign and made it clear they want to test the market on July 1 as unrestricted free agents. So with that news GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t throw away the season and deal them off for futures. He kept them and loaded up to make a playoff run. Adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate deals with the Senators showed that they’re all-in to make some noise in the postseason. They also picked up Adam McQuaid for depth on defense and Keith Kinkaid for some insurance in net. For a franchise that’s yet to win a playoff round, good for them. The value in creating some excitement in the market is greater than whatever futures some team would throw their way in exchange for a couple of rentals.

Blue Jackets power up for playoff run by adding Matt Duchene
Blue Jackets load up with Dzingel

LOSER: Columbus’ 2019 NHL draft plans

With Kekalainen’s flurry of moves before the deadline, the Blue Jackets currently only own two picks in June’s NHL draft: Round 3 and Round 7 (originally Calgary’s). They could add to that if they end up dealing Panarin’s and/or Bobrovsky’s negotiating rights, but for now the prospect cupboard won’t see many additions when the league gathers in Vancouver. They also don’t have a second- or third-round pick in 2020.

WINNER: Nashville’s power play

The Predators’ power play has been atrocious this season, checking in at an NHL-worst 12.6 percent. The unit was at 21.6 percent last season and in the high teens from 2015-17. Simmonds’ addition will help that and the team’s second line. Since 2013, the 30-year-old forward has scored 74 power play goals and recorded 119 points with the man advantage.

Predators go bold at trade deadline with Simmonds, Granlund

LOSER: Jim Rutherford

The Penguins’ blue line through the 2020-21 season will see Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson eating $7.25M in cap space. Not ideal! (Johnson is signed through 2022-23.) You knew they were going to try and add a defenseman with the Brian Dumoulin injury, but…

As our own Adam Gretz pointed out, trading Pearson is also another in long line of decisions by GM Jim Rutherford that he’s undone within a season. Pearson joins Antti Niemi, Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick, Jamie Oleksiak, Riley Sheahan, Derick Brassard, and Derek Grant as being acquired only to be shipped out again.

Rutherford has already brought in Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to aid up front. But with the deadline in the rear-view mirror now, are the Penguins that much better to contend in the East?

Gudbranson – Pearson trade looks ugly for Penguins — on paper

WINNER: Nick Jensen

Not only does the 28-year-old blue liner go from one of the worst teams in the league to the defending Stanley Cup champions who are chasing a Metropolitan Division title, neither side wasted any time extending their relationship. Not long as the trade was announced, the Capitals signed Jensen to a four-year, $10M extension.

Capitals hope to land another defensive gem in Jensen

LOSER: Edmonton Oilers

No one wanted any of the pieces they may have been dangling, leaving interim GM Keith Gretzky with lots of work to do in the off-season.

Edmonton media has been talking up Alex Chiasson lately for some reason, thinking he could fetch a draft pick. The 28-year-old forward has one goal since Christmas and is still shooting 19.8 percent, which shows you how bad the regression monster has been affecting him since starting the season off strong with 16 goals in his first 30 games.

Getty Images

WINNER AND LOSER: Ottawa Senators

We knew that Pierre Dorion was going to be active and in sell mode with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone on the market. Now that all three are gone, the Senators brought in a combined package of:

NHL players: Oscar Lindberg, Anthony Duclair
Prospects: Vitaly Abramoff, Jonathan Davidsson, Erik Brannstrom
Draft picks: Two 2020 second-round picks, 2021 second-round pick, 2019 and 2020 conditional picks

The Stone deal leaves something to be desired, especially since Dorion was unable to get a first-round pick for him. 

These moves, however, leave the Senators with a little over $35M in cap space for next season, per Cap Friendly. They won’t spend to the limit just yet, but they will have to at least get to the projected floor of $58M, so they’ll be active before next season. Maybe that includes taking on a dead contract like, say, David Clarkson’s, which is a $5.25M cap hit through the end of the 2019-20 season.

While the draft picks and prospects could turn into something good in the future, right now there is no confidence from the fan base that the future holds anything positive for the team. The inability to extend Duchene, Dzingel or Stone did not sit well with fans and adds to their lack of belief that Eugene Melnyk will spearhead some huge spending spree in a couple of years as he said he plans to do.

Watching that trio leave has to make you wonder what will happen when it’s time for Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk to re-sign?

“We’re rebuilding and hoping to bring a Stanley Cup very soon,” said Melnyk on Monday after the Stone trade. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

WINNER: Mark Stone

Much like Jensen, Stone moves from a bottom team to a Cup contender and gets an extension to boot. Because of tagging issues, the contract won’t be official until March 1, but it will be eight years with an average annual value of $9.5M and a full no-move clause. Stone told TSN that an “ownership commitment to winning” was a big reason why he agreed to the extension with Vegas, which should tell you everything about why he never ended up putting pen to paper on a deal with the Senators.

Golden Knights win Mark Stone sweepstakes, agree to extension

LOSER: Those hoping for a big move from the Flames

As the Jets, Predators, Sharks, and Golden Knights loaded up, the Flames stayed quiet, only making a depth move on defense by picking up Oscar Fantenberg from the Kings and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. GM Brad Treliving had a maximum price in mind that he would pay to add a big name like Mark Stone. What Ottawa and other sellers were looking for was apparently too rich for his blood.

Treliving wasn’t going to part with prospect Juuso Valimaki, and is pleased to go into battle with his current lineup.

“Today, there is no mourning,” said Treliving Monday afternoon. “The hearse is not driving by, and none of us are climbing in. We’re pretty excited about our team. The fact that we wake up and I’m going to have a cold beer right now and still have guys like Valimaki in our organization, that’s a pretty good day. “So let’s all put it in perspective. We have a good hockey team.”

WINNER: Eric Staal

Owner of a modified no-trade clause, Staal said repeatedly he did not want to leave Minnesota. He wasn’t dealt and will be staying for at least two more seasons after inking a two-year, $6.5M extension.

LOSER: Mats Zuccarello/Dallas Stars

This has nothing to do with the deal, as it was a good addition by GM Jim Nill. But the Stars only got to enjoy Zuccarello for barely 40 minutes before he blocked a shot and suffered a broken arm that will keep him out of the lineup for at least four weeks.

Knowing their newest acquisition is out at least a month, Nill didn’t go out and add any pieces on Monday, making it a quiet day in Big D.

Stars land Zuccarello
Zuccarello injured during Stars debut, out at least four weeks

WINNER: Conditional draft picks

Since Oct. 1, 20 conditional picks have been part of deals. The New York Rangers lead the way with four conditional picks acquired, while the Senators picked up three and Los Angeles received two.

LOSER: Henrik Lundqvist

He took the trade of Zuccarello very hard, as shown after Sunday’s game:

We see it every trade deadline when beloved players move on and their former teams really feel the hole they’re leaving behind. Also, the trade deadline affects more than just the players:

WINNER: New York Rangers

The rebuild could take a turn this summer as GM Jeff Gorton will have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft to play with. He has said he’ll try to use those to acquire players who can step in and make an impact next season. Right now they could have over $20M in cap space this off-season.

Rangers’ sell-off continues as Kevin Hayes heads to Jets

WINNER: Thomas Vanek

For the first time in three years “Mr. Trade Deadline” stays put after the Red Wings did not deal the 35-year-old forward. Vanek has been dealt on three different NHL trade deadlines in his career.

LOSER: Jimmy Howard

There wasn’t much of a goalie market this trade deadline, and Howard, who can walk as a UFA this summer, stayed put. The price Detroit was seeking was reportedly high, but now GM Ken Holland will turn his sights into trying to re-sign the 34-year-old.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

After chaotic arrival, Penguins’ newcomers could provide key depth

AP
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PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice for warmups on Friday night before their game against the Ottawa Senators they were not anywhere close to having a full NHL roster.

They were already shorthanded because superstar center Evgeni Malkin was out of the lineup due to an undisclosed upper-body injury, perhaps the result of his fight with Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos on Wednesday night.

Then there was the issue of Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

Both players were acquired earlier in the day in a four-player, three-draft pick blockbuster with the Florida Panthers that saw Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan go the other way. With Brassard and Sheahan on their way to Florida, Bjugstad and McCann were desperately trying to get to Pittsburgh in time for puck drop.

If they didn’t make it on time the Penguins were only going to have 10 forwards at the start of the game.

They quite literally could not have cut it any closer.

At 6:56 p.m. ET, less than 10 minutes before game time, the scoreboard at PPG Paints Arena showed both players frantically running down the tunnel toward the Penguins’ locker room.

It was around that time the official game rosters and lineups were published with both players in the lineup. It did not matter what time they were dressed or when they got there, they were playing. Period.

It was not until the national anthems were wrapping up that both players finally emerged from the tunnel and joined their new team on the bench.

Then with no warmups, no pre-game meeting, and really no chance to even introduce themselves to their teammates they were thrown right into a game with their new team.

Bjugstad ended up playing 16 minutes and recorded two shots on goal and an assist in the Penguins’ 5-3 win, while McCann played 10 minutes.

“Usually I have my coffee and do some stretches, but I didn’t have any of that today,” laughed Bjugstad. “We got here around I think 6:50, ran out there, basically made it for the anthem. I have dreams every once in a while where I’m late to a game and that’s kind of what it felt like. Luckily, it worked out pretty good.”

McCann said their day began like any other. They took part in the morning skate in Florida in preparation for the Panthers’ game against the Nashville Predators and then returned home at lunch time. It was then that they got the phone call and were informed by the Panthers that they had been traded to the Penguins.

After briefly speaking to Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford they were on a jet headed to Pittsburgh.

Both players said they had little to no interaction with the coaching staff prior to the game.

“It was basically just say hi to the coaches and get on the ice,” said McCann when asked about their last-minute arrival to the building, while admitting he had no idea what time he actually entered the building, only recalling their sprint from the car to the locker room.

“They didn’t have time to say anything to us,” added Bjugstad. “There was the anthem, there were a few things said on the bench and that was it. I got a call earlier in the day from Jim [Rutherford] and Mike [Sullivan] and they said we’re going to try to play you tonight and it was kind of a whirlwind from there. Definitely excited to get that first one out of the way. This is going to be fun to be with these guys.

“We didn’t have much time. But we’ll always remember that, sitting on the plane wondering if we were going to make it on time. We need to thank our pilots for getting us here on time.”

Even after all of that chaos, they don’t really have any time to get settled in their new city before having to hit the road again. After their frantic day on Friday that included a trade, travel, and then playing in an NHL game they had to board another plane to Toronto for a 7 p.m. ET game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

It is about as hectic of a 24-hour period an NHL player can have.

“I thought they had strong games tonight under difficult circumstances,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “We’re really excited about both guys. They’re really good guys and I think they’re excited to be Pittsburgh Penguins.”

[Related: Penguins land Bjugstad; Panthers get Brassard, picks]

Now that they both are Pittsburgh Penguins, their new duty is to provide some depth and stability to the bottom half of a roster that has been constantly overhauled over the past couple of years.

Friday’s trade continued what has been a now two-year trend by the Penguins of undoing every transaction within a year of completing it.

Last offseason they added Ryan ReavesMatt Hunwick, and Antti Niemi.

Within a year all three were traded.

During the season they acquired Jamie Oleksiak, Sheahan, and Brassard in three separate trades in an effort to bolster the depth that had been lost after their second consecutive Stanley Cup win in 2017. Within a year all three of those acquisitions are also now gone, and it is again worth pointing out that the trade that saw them move Oleksiak was a literal re-do of the trade where they originally acquired him.

On one hand, it shows that general manager Jim Rutherford will work quickly to correct his mistakes when he makes them and isn’t stubborn enough to keep hoping they will work.

It also shows an incredible sense of urgency in doing whatever it takes to try and win another championship with the current core of Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel. You only get players of that caliber for so long and you owe it to them, your franchise, and your fanbase to go all in on winning while you have them.

On the other hand, is this really a sustainable way to run a team with this much constant overhaul? Not only is it a sign that the moves you are making are not working, but it’s costing even more assets to correct them. Just think back to all of the assets they gave up to originally acquire Brassard before last year’s trade deadline. He was not cheap and not only cost them their 2018 first-round draft pick, but also one of their top prospects in goalie Filip Gustavsson as well as Reaves, who was originally acquired as part of a trade that saw them give up their 2017 first-round draft pick.

Then they had to give up three additional draft picks as part of the deal to get Bjugstad and McCann. That is a lot of roster movement to end up at this spot.

Time will tell if this latest trade works out as expected.

The Penguins obviously like that both players are younger than Brassard and Sheahan and have term remaining on their contracts beyond this season.

They also may be better fits in the roles the Penguins need them to play. Brassard just never seemed to work in Pittsburgh as a third-line center, a role that he had never played at any point in his career. No matter what they tried to do to get him going, it just never clicked.

Sheahan had his moments, but they just never came consistently enough.

Bjugstad’s career has been derailed by injuries at times over the past few seasons but he has shown the ability to be a 20-goal, 50-point forward, while McCann is reportedly a player the Penguins have had their eyes on for quite some time.

Their debut in Pittsburgh went about as well as could have been expected given the circumstances.

Now, they have a little under half a season to get up to speed with their new team and try to provide the essential depth they will need to help the Penguins make another run at the Stanley Cup.

More: Penguins lock in; Panthers prep for Panarin pursuit?

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

Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team so far this season, going through stretches where they have looked like the Harlem Globetrotters on ice, and other times, especially recently, where they have been more Washington Generals.

Entering Wednesday’s game in Washington they were riding a four-game losing streak where they had been outscored by a 19-6 margin.  For the season they are near the bottom of the league in goals against and shots against, their once fearsome power play has struggled so much that coach Mike Sullivan opted to split up his top unit to open Wednesdays’ game and throw all of his lines and defense pairings into a blender, while nobody outside of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel or Kris Letang is providing any offense to speak of.

This is not sitting well with general manager Jim Rutherford, and he made that all very clear during his radio show on the team’s flagship radio station (105.9, The X) before Wednesday’s game.

Rutherford has always been one of the more candid general managers in the league and is never afraid to share his opinions.

Boy did he ever share his opinions on Wednesday.

Some of the highlights include…

First, on the team’s general inconsistency and how everything fell apart following their four-game winning streak in Canada.

“What I’m seeing I don’t like. Nobody likes it. We’re trying to figure out what’s gone wrong here. We went through Canada, it was a great trip where the guys came together, that team chemistry that we’ve been looking for even from last year, it was really strong and it was all coming together. It was almost like when we cleared customs coming back into the United States, we left it all there. I’d like to say we have an answer for it, but we don’t right now. We’re watching it really close. We don’t think the team’s not good enough, because if it wasn’t we wouldn’t have played the way going through Canada. But certainly if this continues in short order we’re going to have to make some changes.”

On the team’s work and energy level…

“We’re not playing with any energy or determination. We’re just trying to get through the games. These other teams are coming, they’re outworking us, and they deserve to beat us. In some of these games probably deserve to beat us worse than the score indicates. It’s just getting back to the basics and guys getting back to work and coming back to the rink determined to win, and I haven’t seen it since we came from back from Canada and it’s very concerning.”

On whether or not this team needs a BIG change…

“We really believed coming out of camp we were a contending team. We start those first four or five games and we were very inconsistent, then we played very well for four games, and then we went back to being a bad team where we didn’t play well at all. We have the players that can work through it. Sometimes they can. Sometimes they can’t. I wonder if this group has been together for too long and maybe we need to change it up, but that’s what I will watch for in the next game games.”

On young players that have found early success in the NHL and just signed big contracts, and other players that might be playing for future contracts…

“Things change, because at a young age, guys win Stanley Cups, a lot of guys go their whole career and they don’t even get close to it. We’ve had a few that have won a couple, then they get bigger contracts, and they kind of settle in and they forget what got them to where they are today. And then we have some guys that are working toward a contract next offseason, and so maybe they change their game. Maybe they think scoring more goals or getting more points is going to get them more money, so they get away from their game and what their role is. And I see that happening with some of the guys on both ends of my point here, so that’s what I was saying earlier, has this team been together too long, and that’s what you have to watch for, when do you have to make those changes. The players are doing everything they can to tell me now’s the time.”

On the lack of depth and players outside of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang not carrying their weight…

“It’s almost like the guys come to the games and say, ‘Let’s just let the top guys do it.’ Let’s let Sid, Geno, Phil and Letang carry us. We’ll just get through the game and move on to the next game. Forget about the work ethic it takes or forget about the role they play. But when those top players aren’t getting it done, whether they’re shut down or they’re just not having a good game, that’s when we need those other guys to come in and contribute and help win games. We’re not getting it.”

Oh, and let’s not forget the goalies, Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith

“In the two years we won the Cup we were playing at times the way we are playing now. But between Fleury and Murray they were phenomenal in goal. They were hard to score against. That is not what we’re getting now. We aree getting inconsistent goaltending.”

There is an awful lot to unpack here, and for the most part, nothing he said is really incorrect.

The team’s energy level often times seems to be lacking, at least compared to their opponents. As one of the oldest teams in the league they no longer seem to have the same jump or speed to their game as they did two years ago, especially as the rest of the league has seemingly caught up to them (and perhaps even surpassed them) when it comes to playing a certain way. The depth scoring, which was a huge staple of the Stanley Cup winning teams in 2015-16 and 2016-17, has completely evaporated as nobody beyond the four top players (Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang) is providing any sort of consistent offense. And the goalies? Well, they entered play on Wednesday with a combined team save percentage of just .903, including a dismal .886 mark for Murray.

So, yeah, there is a lot wrong there.

You can listen to his entire show here.

But while Rutherford is mostly spot-on with his criticisms, it is only fair to point out that he, too, has had some missteps over the past two years that are absolutely contributing to the team’s slow start and current position.

His moves during the summer of 2017 backfired so badly that within one year every player he acquired or signed was already jettisoned off of the team (many of them did not make it through the season with the Penguins).

The Derick Brassard trade, for one reason or another, has not panned out the way anyone expected to it after it was made.

This offseason saw the team trade Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick in a salary dump trade, only to have it be followed up by the curious signings of Jack Johnson and 42-year-old Matt Cullen.

The Penguins had a similar slow start to the 2017-18 season and were able to pull themselves out of it, finish in second place in the Metropolitan Division, and get back to the second round of the playoffs. But they were still pretty far off from the team that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the years before that.

So far this season they seem to be even further away from it, and now the general manager is left to contemplate some big changes. If he is going to make them, he needs to do better than he has the past two years.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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