The Penguins have been in decline since 2018, the last time they won a playoff series. They were legit Stanley Cup contenders from 2008-18, winning in ’09, ’16 and ’17. It was a great run and was never going to last forever.
If you had to pick a day when things went irrevocably bad, it was Feb. 23, 2018.
That’s when the Penguins got C Derrick Brassard from Ottawa. Going the other way was a first-round pick in 2018, a third-round pick in 2019, defenseman Ian Cole and goaltender Filip Gustavsson, the Penguins’ second-round selection in 2016. The Penguins also got a minor-leaguer and a third-round choice in 2018.
Brassard was a flop in Pittsburgh, a prima donna who had the temerity to feel he should be a top-six center on a team that had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He was constantly and visibly unhappy. Brassard didn’t even last a full year with the Penguins.
Gustavsson, 24, is now splitting time with ex-Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota. Gustavsson's goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.932) both rank second in the NHL. Gustavsson would undoubtedly be the Penguins’ starting goalie right now.
That first-round pick the Penguins gave Ottawa ultimately got traded to the New York Rangers, who took 6-foot-5 defenseman K’Andre Miller. Miller, 23, would be a mainstay on the Penguins’ blue line.
GM Jim Rutherford was trying to win more. I got no problem. But that trade failed miserably, and the ongoing trickledown proved cataclysmic.