Christmas has been cancelled as Pens fans have been given a heaping pile of coal through the first 28 games. Instead of the holiday season, we now welcome in the narrative season. The events that got us to this point, and the ones to follow, are certain to be fit into neat and tidy hot takes by national pundits, and possibly some local ones as well. Some might hit on some valid topics while ignoring the details, while others will just be lazy attempts to explain what's happened. Buckle up baby, because chances are you will see, or have seen, some of the following:
[Insert Player Name Here] is a Coach Killer
This is a drum that will be beaten loudest by the Toronto media with respect to Phil Kessel (here's looking at you Steve Simmons), but it's possible others like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Kris Letang could be singled out here as well. Phil Kessel has had 7 NHL coaches in 10 seasons? Clearly a coach killer, and lazy, and a bad teammate, and whatever else those above the border have come up with that I've missed. Sidney Crosby's uncharacteristic start to the season? Clearly a reflection of his distaste for the direction that Mike Johnston was taking the team in addition to a feud with Mario Lemieux. Ditto Kris Letang. Even Evgeni Malkin has been suggested as the problem by noted xenophobe Don Cherry. Certainly there must be a reason for the team's start, and with Johnston gone it will have been an active mutiny by his players.
The Pens Haven't Wanted it Badly Enough
The good old effort angle, most notably expoused by Rob Scuderi every 20 games or so as a reflection of his "veteran leadership" or, most likely, his attempt to paint himself as a player having value to the team on the ice. With a slow start that currently has them sitting outside the playoffs, the Penguins have had either a 1) country club atmosphere in the dressing room, 2) expected that their star power would carry them further than their current results without needing to buy in or work for it, 3) a team with insanely high expectations is burned out after falling short in the playoffs and is having trouble focusing on getting over the mountain, or possibly a combination of any of the three. But with the star power the team has, there must be a lack of effort and commitment to explain the results.
Again, this is a team with too much star power to be where they are at, so clearly there must be a leadership void in the locker room. Sidney Crosby is no Jonathan Toews, who has 3 Stanley Cups to Crosby's one and therefore is clearly a superior leader and human being, and likely hockey player as well. They're criticisms Crosby has faced before, and coupled with his slow start to the season mesh nicely together to explain what's happened. With more leadership in the room, the Penguins can buckle down, do the little things, and work their way out of the hole they find himself in.
[Insert Trade Acquisition Here] Turned the Season Around
Rutherford has made no secret of his desire to improve the team via trade, most notably on the blue line. If he manages to bring in a legitimate top 4 defender, especially one with good puck skills, it's likely to do wonders for a defensive corp that's had a difficult time transitioning out of their own zone. Improving on that will help jump start an offense that has the talent up front to score with the best of them. If the team's play improves after a trade, chances are the player brought in will be given an inordinate amount of the credit.
[Insert Traded Player Here] Was a Cancer
On the other hand, if the Penguins see improvement after a trade, the fault for their previous play could be laid at the feet of the player that is no longer in Pittsburgh, whether he's blamed as a cancer, a bad fit, lazy, etc. Patric Hornqvist finds himself as the most likely to be moved from the NHL roster as he's been demoted to the 3rd line and holds the most value among players the team could realistically trade. Even though the offensive issues go far beyond his lack of scoring, and he'd likely bring back a player on the blue line that would be a big help towards getting the puck in the other team's zone, if he leaves and the offense take a step forward he'll likely be the scapegoat for what was holding them back.
Mike Sullivan Has Fixed the Pens' Problems
If the Penguins get off to a hot start under Mike Sullivan, the media will be chomping at the bit to give him credit and heap praise upon him. Undoubtedly someone will over do it and proclaim Sullivan a genius, or that he has fixed the Penguins' problems. While there are roster moves that can be made to better optimize the lineup, there are still personnel issues that will need to be addressed. There's a good chance that Sullivan can push some buttons and do some things that put the Pens in a better position until the rest of the league can get a better handle on what he's trying to do, but fixing the problems is going to take more than just a coaching change.
Mike Sullivan Hasn't Helped; the Pens Are Doomed
If the Penguins get off to a slow start under Mike Sullivan, the media will be chomping at the bit to proclaim the Penguins' season, and likely future, doomed. The team will be poorly constructed, the players won't have the drive to succeed, and the coaching change will be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Fact of the matter is that the first 3 games the team plays are against Washington then a home and home against Boston. Sullivan will be changing the way the team plays, and Kris Letang is going to miss the next couple weeks with injury. A slow start to is tenure would not be unexpected and certainly woudn't meant that all hope is lost.
Rob Scuderi Was/Is Dragging Down This Team
Well, sometimes it is just that easy to hit the nail on the head.