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Penguins enter an offseason unlike any other

NEW YORK — In the spring of 2010, Sidney Crosby was asked about the Penguins’ former home, then named Mellon Arena, which the franchise was about to vacate in a matter of weeks.

It was an outdated venue full of leaky pipes, moldy ceiling tiles, narrow hallways and unpleasant fragrances.

The query was a simple one.

Is there anything he would change about the building?

Crosby’s answer was almost immediate.

“No. … I love it here,” the Penguins’ captain said. “I love this rink. … There’s nothing I don’t like about here.

“I really like our setup here.”

A dozen years later, Crosby is still a creature of habit and isn’t terribly fond of change.

And that suits him well as a pillar of the franchise. His time with the Penguins will end when he chooses it to come to a halt.

As for the rest of the franchise, that’s a whole other matter.

Following his team’s elimination at the hands of the New York Rangers on Sunday in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — the fourth consecutive season the Penguins have failed to win a single playoff round — change is coming.

And it was going to come even if the Penguins’ season came to an end six weeks from now, let alone this week.

A variety of factors have led to the Penguins entering an offseason that will likely lead to a number of faces and names moving on, both on and off the ice.

The largest of those variables is the new majority ownership group, Fenway Sports Group. Having purchased the team formally just prior to the start of the 2022 calendar year, Fenway has not many many changes to date, with the considerable exception of former team president and CEO David Morehouse resigning on April 28.

Under the previous majority ownership of Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, Morehouse was the primary steward of the organization and oversaw its various endeavors, many to a granular level.

It remains to be seen who will fill his role(s). Chief operating officer Kevin Acklin and president of hockey operations Brian Burke have assumed Morehouse’s duties, but on an interim basis.

It’s far from a guarantee they will retain those roles past this summer.

The same can be said for just virtually anyone in either hockey operations or other areas of the franchise’s business.

As for the Penguins’ concerns on the ice, general manager Ron Hextall is two years into a four-year contract (with a fifth option year) that he signed under the Burkle-Lemieux ownership in February 2021.

By no means has he done anything to merit dismissal. In fact, he’s largely just maintained a course set by previous general manager Jim Rutherford for the past two seasons with relatively few alterations to the roster, or at least, none that would be considered major.

Hextall was given a complicated mandate by previous management of trying to win now while also shoring up the franchise’s future, namely with regards to the prospect pool.

He’s still just in the embryonic stages of the latter endeavor. As for winning now? That hasn’t happened for roughly half a decade.

On the bench, coach Mike Sullivan is two years into a four-year contract that expires after the 2023-24 season.

By far the most successful coach in franchise history, Sullivan is a Penguins icon for having led the franchise to rare back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016-2017.

But those four consecutive first-round exits from the postseason are also on his resume.

Not many coaches, burdened with the highest of expectations, would be retained after such futility regardless of who was cutting the checks.

By most accounts, Fenway management appears to be impressed with Sullivan, as are Burke and Hextall. But four consecutive seasons of not even a playoff series victory is hard to overlook.

As for the roster, this offseason will be messy.

Franchise icons Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — two of Crosby’s closest friends — are each scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this upcoming offseason.

Management is believed to have told representation for both parties that returning on contracts with their previous salary cap hits ($9.5 million for Malkin and $7.25 million for Letang) will not happen.

And on the surface, there seems to have been little progress in the way of potential extensions ever since negotiations were able to formally begin in June 2021.

Malkin, who turns 36 in July, is coming off two consecutive seasons in which he has missed considerable time due to injury, primarily an ailing right knee that underwent surgery during the 2021 offseason. Having always been comfortable in the shadow of Crosby, Malkin seems to be the most open to returning at a lesser salary, if only to maintain his dynamic with Crosby.

As for Letang? Well, right-handed defensemen who set a career high in scoring and can still play north of 25 minutes a game while missing relatively little time due to injury can always command a heavy salary, even at age 35.

They aren’t the only players the Penguins have to consider re-signing either.

Forwards Bryan Rust ($3.5 million). Rickard Rakell ($3,789,444), Evan Rodrigues ($1 million), Brian Boyle ($750,000) and goaltender Casey DeSmith ($1.25 million) are all pending unrestricted free agents while forward Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million) and Danton Heinen ($1.1 million) are pending restricted free agents.

The salary cap won’t be going up much either. Due to the lingering effects of the pandemic, the cap, which is directly tied to the NHL’s hockey-related revenues, is expected to only grow $1 million to $82.5 million. And in the Penguins’ case, most of that will be accounted for by the 2020 buyout of ex-defenseman Jack Johnson. His dead-money cap hit goes from $1,166,667 this past season to $1,916,667 in 2022-23, according to Cap Friendly.

(That figure drops to $916,667 over the ensuing three seasons.)

So, this is all just one big mess that someone needs to sort out.

The Penguins will report to training camp in roughly four months. It’s anyone’s guess who will step on the ice on those late summer days in Cranberry. Or who will be directing them.

They know that.

Even their captain.

“It’s inevitable that there’s going to be change over time,” Crosby said recently. “That happens with a team.

“You just try to enjoy it as much as you can and take it all in because you know it’s not something that’s going to last forever, whether it’s this year or down the road a little bit more. You only get to play for so long. Just trying to enjoy it and just be grateful for the opportunity to do it again.”

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .


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