How close are the Penguins to becoming the Blackhawks or Kings?

Dynasties don’t always fade away. Sometimes they just crumble and collapse into a smoldering pile of ruin that cannibalizes itself and everything around it.

Sure, we sometimes throw the word “dynasty” around in sports a little too loosely, and I admit I am probably doing that here for the purpose of this argument, but hey … I needed a starting point. Even though NHL’s salary cap era has not produced a true “dynasty” comparable to the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, or Montreal Canadiens, there have been three teams that have stood out above the pack and achieved a level of success no other team has come close to matching.

The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years.

The Chicago Blackhawks won three in six.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three (with a fourth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final) in 10 years.

Those three teams have combined to win eight of the Stanley Cups in the salary cap era, including eight of the previous 10.

While none of them on their own qualify as a true “dynasty,” they have still been the defining teams of this era.

Two of them, the Blackhawks and Kings, are already in the smoldering pile phase of their franchise progression.

The Kings have missed the playoffs more than they’ve made them since winning their second Stanley Cup in 2014, have not won a playoff series, and just wrapped up a 2018-19 season where they spent the year competing with the Ottawa Senators for the worst record in the league.

The Blackhawks have not won a playoff series in three years since their 2015 Stanley Cup win and have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Is this sort of bleak stretch in the Penguins’ future? Well, the long-term answer is most certainly yes, it is, because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are not going to play forever, and there is going to come a point even when they are playing that they may not be able to carry the team to the playoffs. Hell, you don’t have to look far to see the track the Penguins have been on the past two years, going from back-to-back Stanley Cups, to a second-round exit, to a first-round sweep after clinching a playoff spot in Game 81 of the regular season.

That is coming down from the top of the mountain, friends, and there is nothing wrong with that. Nobody stays at the top forever, and at least if you are a Penguins, Kings, or Blackhawks fan you have a bunch of banners to show for it.

As the old saying goes: Banners hang forever.

But how close are the Penguins to truly falling to the bottom and living in the reality that Blackhawks and Kings have spent the past few years in (and maybe the next couple, at least)?

It will happen at some point, but I’m not sure the Penguins are there just quite yet.

First, even though the “core” of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, etc. are getting older, I feel like they have more of a graceful decline ahead of them than the core players of the Kings and Blackhawks.

The Kings’ core really wasn’t that impressive to begin with, was it?

Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are great — but that was about it. Their run of championships was never one that was built on skill or remarkably deep rosters. It was built on suffocating, systematic defensive work and hoping that Jonathan Quick could catch fire for a couple of months and rise above his otherwise mediocre track record as an NHL starting goalie. I’m not saying the Kings were frauds as champions (they were a legitimately great for three years!) but they just didn’t seem to have the type of roster that was set-up for long-term, sustained success over a decade or so.

Once their handful of high-level players started to slow down, there wasn’t much left around them to make up for it. When a player like, say, Dustin Brown loses a step, he doesn’t have much else to fall back on.

The Blackhawks are a little tougher to get a read on on where things went so sideways for them.

Corey Crawford’s health issues over the past two years have definitely had a negative impact on their overall performance, and when you lose a really good starting goalie and don’t have anyone to fall back on, that is going to create a lot of problems. I also think a lot of the Blackhawks’ problems are a little self-inflicted in the sense that they stayed too loyal to the wrong players (see: Seabrook, Brent) and made some irrational decisions based on one bad postseason result (trading a first-line player like Artemi Panarin to bring back a lesser player in Brandon Saad — one that they were, again, probably staying too loyal to because of the team success).

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By: Gretz

The most surprising developments of the NHL season so far

The one constant in any given NHL season should always be to expect the unexpected because there is always going to be something that surprises you — maybe even shocks you.

The team that you thought might stink could turn out to be good for some bizarre reason.

The player you pegged as an offseason flop might catch lightning in a bottle and excel.

The player who was supposed to put the Stanley Cup contender over the top? Well, that might be the one who flops and ends up holding the team back.

We have seen a lot of those scenarios playing out over the first quarter of the NHL season.

Among them…

The Max Pacioretty trade is working…for Montreal

After more than a year of constant rumors and trade speculation, the Montreal Canadiens finally put an end to all of the drama and sent Max Pacioretty, their best goal-scorer and one of their best players from the past decade, to the Vegas Golden Knights.

At the time it looked to be a huge score for a Vegas team that stunned the hockey world a year ago by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its debut season, and it would finally kick off a much-needed rebuild in Montreal.

In return, the Canadiens received a package of players centered around Tomas Tatar, who was a total flop in Vegas after he was acquired at the trade deadline this past season, and 2017 first-round pick Nick Suzuki.

So far it has gone the exact opposite way anyone could have anticipated.

Through Vegas’ first 19 games (of which Pacioretty appeared in only 15 due to injury), he has managed just two goals and two assists, while Tatar, who seems to have rediscovered his scoring touch in Montreal, has recorded 16 points (including eight goals) in his first 19 games. Suzuki, meanwhile, has continued to dominate in the Ontario Hockey League.

At some point Tatar is going to cool off, and Pacioretty is going to rebound. And ultimately the key player to this trade for Montreal was — and will continue to be — Suzuki. But it’s still been shocking to see how this trade has worked out in the early going, even if it doesn’t last.

For now though it is a primary reason why Montreal has been one of the biggest surprise teams in the league and why Vegas has been one of the early disappointments.

Max Domi: offensive machine

Sticking with the Canadiens for a second, their other big offseason trade saw them send Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in a one-for-one swap for Max Domi.

Domi was coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons in the desert where he managed just nine goals in each, with four of his goals a season ago coming as empty-netters. It seemed that his offense had completely dried up after a promising rookie season.

But just like the Tatar-for-Pacioretty trade, this one has found a way to work out for Montreal in the early going.

Through Thursday, Nov. 15, Domi had already scored 10 goals (all of them with an opposing goalie in the net) and was one of the league’s top-10 total point producers. Even if it is an unsustainable pace, he is still going to crush his numbers from the previous two years.

The Blackhawks fire Joel Quenneville

It should have been expected that the Chicago Blackhawks might struggle this season. They had not won a playoff series in three years and were coming off their first non-playoff season in nearly a decade. The core is getting older, the depth is getting thinner and the salary cap space is still perpetually getting tighter for them. At some point they were going to start making some changes, and eventually that was going to lead to the end of the Joel Quenneville era. It was just surprising to see that after everything Quenneville did for the franchise that he was let go as quickly as he was, especially when a lot of the team’s recent struggles are probably out of his hands.

The Blackhawks were done in a year ago by an injury to starting goalie Corey Crawford and the fact that they had no capable backup to fill in for him.

This year the problem is that the roster, outside of the top four or five players, just really isn’t that good, and that responsibility has to fall on the front office.

Eventually it will. Because once the Blackhawks continue to struggle under a new coach (and given the roster, they will), the next change will be at the top.

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By Adam Gretz