Loss amidst the collapse of the Tampa Bay Lightning in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs is the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins were swept in four games to the New York Islanders. After back to back Cups in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins have disappointed many after losing to the Washington Capitals in the 2nd Round in 2018, and now this year's 1st Round defeat to the Islanders. It appears that their run of Stanley Cup contention is over.
With star forwards Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin, as well as top defenseman Kris Letang all 31 years old or older, the chances of any major improvement are quite slim, and it is likely that their production starts to decline in the near future. Crosby, the best player of his generation, had an amazing season with 100 pts, but he will not be able to do it forever. Malkin has been injury plagued throughout his career, and he dealt with some of that this season as well.
The regression of Patric Hornqvist, also over 31, from 49 pts last year to 37 pts this year in nearly the same number of games played, is quite concerning. Hornqvist, making $5.3 million per year until 2023, was instrumental in the Penguins' depth that helped win them back to back Cups, so it appears that he is entering major decline in his career.
Also hurting the Penguins is the lack of talented young forwards to step up and eventually fill the void of Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. With the exception of Jake Guentzel, age 24, who had 40 goals and 76 pts this year, most of the young players appear to be little more than cheap depth. Dominik Simon, also age 24, once highly touted in the Penguins' farm system, registered just 28 pts in 71 games this season. Coach Mike Sullivan will need to use Simon much more next year in hopes of furthering his development as a forward. 22 year old forward Jared McCann was big in helping the Penguins make the playoffs this year, as he had 17 pts in 32 games after acquired in a trade from the Florida Panthers, but he had just 1 pt in 3 games in the Islanders series.
In terms of disappointing acquisitions that General Manager Jim Rutherford has made recently, signing defenseman Jack Johnson in 2018 ranks high. Johnson is 32 and has 4 years left on a $3.2 million per year deal, and was largely ineffective for most of the season. 27 year old defenseman Erik Gudbranson was acquired at the 2019 trade deadline, and while being serviceable at times, does not suit most of today's faster paced game.
Goaltender Matt Murray is still just 24 years old and had a better season compared to his 2017-18 campaign, but he appears to not be the goaltender who won two Cups as a rookie for the Penguins. It will be interesting to see if he gets back to those type of performances over a full schedule, or if stretches of inconsistency will plague him further.
While the Penguins appear to be falling down the ladder out of serious contention for another Stanley Cup, those memories from 2016 and 2017 will never be forgotten by their fans. Even with a slow decline, the franchise appears to be in decent shape to maintain good attendance considering the fanbase they have cultivated during the Crosby era. Nevertheless, the Penguins are joining fellow former and recent multiple Cup winners in the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks in regression.