ShareThis Page

Kovacevic: Will Penguins ever prioritize youth?

| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 11:03 p.m.
Winger Beau Bennett is one of the few Penguins prospects who appears NHL-ready.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Winger Beau Bennett is one of the few Penguins prospects who appears NHL-ready.
Defensman Simon Despres is expected to see a spike in playing time next season.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Defensman Simon Despres is expected to see a spike in playing time next season.

Call it golden timing, call it great irony, but it shouldn't escape notice that on the same day Ray Shero kept the Penguins' scouts idle for three hours and 58 minutes at the NHL Draft, he also set aside $58 million for No. 58, agreeing with Kris Letang on the tentative framework of a new eight-year contract.

Yeah, even at the one event all year that's focused on the future, this franchise was still about the now.

It's always about the now.

Understand, please, that's not a criticism of a Letang extension. Far from it. He's 26, he's a legit Norris Trophy finalist, a rare talent, a relentless worker and a vital part of the Penguins' core now and into the future. It's a big price, with an annual cap hit of $7.25 million, but a fair one compared to his elite peers.

But what comes next?

When does all that cost, in money and picks and cap room, come due?

When do the Penguins return to being a team on the rise as opposed to one in the NHL's rear-view mirror?

Ask me, and it had better be right now.

Set aside the immediate implications. It's easy to see that a Letang extension essentially shows Pascal Dupuis the door. Maybe Matt Cooke, too. So cast ahead, instead, to 2014-15, when the Evgeni Malkin and Letang extensions would take effect. Once you subtract Malkin ($9.5 million), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Letang ($7.25 million), Marc-Andre Fleury ($5 million), Paul Martin ($5 million), James Neal ($5 million) and Chris Kunitz ($3.85 million) from the ledger, there's only $25.7 million left for the other 18 players under a projected cap of $70 million.

That'll buy you a whole lot of Joe Vitale.

Sure, it'll be sad if Dupuis and Cooke go, and it'll make the Penguins a weaker team. But the trajectory of this organization has to change sometime, and this window is it.

Crosby, Malkin and Letang could be together for eight years, accounting for a cap hit of roughly $25 million on players all older than 25, all of whom have missed significant time to injury, all with varying degrees of concussion history.

That doesn't worry you?

Making matters more ominous, scouting director Jay Heinbuck's recent drafts have been duds. Other than first-rounders Beau Bennett and Simon Despres, the only player close to contributing at the NHL level from the past six classes is a single spare-part defenseman, Robert Bortuzzo.

That's ridiculous.

It's on Shero, too. Nothing stops him from adding picks at the same pace he sends them out. Might mean swapping Tyler Kennedy for a second-rounder, then trading up to No. 44 overall, as Shero did Sunday to spare his scouts waiting until the third round. Might mean applying heat to some vets, as top pick Tristan Jarry is sure to do with Fleury in goal. But it's better to do anything than, say, dump off Ben Lovejoy to the Ducks for a fifth-rounder only to see him this week sign a three-year, $3.3 million deal to stay there.

More youth is needed.

For that matter, more usage of youth is needed.

It's wonderful that Dan Bylsma declared after the playoffs that Bennett will be a top-six forward and Despres a top-four defensemen next season. It's just too bad pretty much everyone else saw they could have been that this past season. And if they had been, Shero might not have felt moved to pad the roster.

Look, I loved getting Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray and didn't care about age. No regrets there. The Penguins had a team they felt could win the Cup, and Shero went for broke.

But therein lie the problems:

1. They didn't win the Cup.

2. They already were the NHL's oldest team, then raised their average age to 29.5 with those trades.

3. They essentially did go for broke, at least in the future tense, by sending out Sunday's first-rounder and the first-rounder two years ago, Joe Morrow. That's a blow to any system, no matter the core.

That's why, much as it's nice to keep Letang, I also would have been fine had Shero traded Letang for prospects and/or picks and applying all that money elsewhere.

Maybe some other day.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.