The Penguins general manager’s next task becomes clear

LAS VEGAS — The Pittsburgh Penguins are simultaneously light years away from being a Stanley Cup contender and not that far off.

And in the Hubble Telescope view of the Stanley Cup from which the Penguins currently watch it, the next Penguins general manager has a clear task.

Depth speed. Depth speed. And more speed.

And some of them must be a certain size.

Sidenote #1: Don’t be surprised if Penguins ownership goes after Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. Even hockey circles are talking about this possibility.

In March, coach Mike Sullivan said the game was moving toward “more of a puck chasing game.” With the exception of Florida, the dominant teams emerging in the second round have impressive forechecks based on speed, but also size and the ability to finish quickly when the play turns in their favor.

The Vegas Golden Knights and Carolina are the role models. The Seattle Kraken isn’t far either.

And the Penguins have some of those pieces to start building, perhaps with Ryan Poehling and Drew O’Connor on the fourth line.

None of the playoff teams above are led by superstar centers. Jack Eichel (Vegas) and Sebastian Aho (Caroline) are legit players, but they’re not the guys who dominate the games. The Carolina Hurricanes look like the beast from the east and their style is puck possession created by covering forecheck.

Vegas has incredible depth, and their style also fuels sustained pressure.

“Look at (Chandler)Stephenson’s goal. We have (Edmonton) in the middle of a change. You surround them,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said Friday. “This is the game we’re talking about. Now that looks like a chance to rush, but at the end of the day, it’s usually good O-zone pressure. Get them on their heels a bit.

A new Pittsburgh Penguins general manager will have to balance the analytics, which show the Penguins should have scored a lot more goals with the fact that they didn’t.

The Penguins’ new general manager will also have to address one of the biggest reasons the Penguins missed the playoffs, a nearly season-long trend of bad third periods. The team had the third most lost lead in the NHL (22), according to, and nine of those were lost in the third period.

The Penguins’ lack of depth, combined with an inability to forecheck to reverse momentum, created ripple effects. A defensive line should shine in these situations, but instead the spotlight has been on the Penguins’ shortcomings.

Carolina is impressive because once she has the puck, she doesn’t give it back. They have speed throughout their range. Vegas has a heavy bottom-six that can skate. They are defensively responsible and score goals (Cassidy dropped Stephenson and Mark Stone on the third line for better offensive balance and defensive prowess).

Mike Sullivan has no such tools or luxuries. The Penguins were similar to the Edmonton Oilers; all the talent was concentrated among a few players.

“A lot of lines that are good puck possession lines don’t necessarily score. They don’t have high-end finishers. It’s hard to put them all on one line,” Cassidy said. “…If they can wear down the other team, leave (the puck) in a good spot for the next line going over the boards, that’s a win for us.”

The Penguins haven’t had many of those “wins” in their last six through the end of the year. The backlines weren’t defensively superior either.

However, here’s an advanced stat that got me looking three times: Mikael Granlund had an expected goalscoring rate of 57.5% (xGF). I don’t know how to incorporate this into anything.

Another common theme among the still-active teams above is the lack of an elite keeper. As Cassidy noted on Friday, “You’re looking at the Jersey guy (Akira Schmid). I don’t know what his story is, he got them in the second round. Now you have (Stuart) Skinner, (Laurent) Brossoit “Cassidy said. “Maybe it’s that year…some of the biggest names, (Andrei) Vasileskiy, (Ilya) Shesterkin, (Linus) Ullmark had a great year; they’re not there.

Depth guards, unheralded goaltenders and other average tendys fill out Round 2, with the likely exception of Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger.

Sidenote #2: Cassidy’s hockey explanations are amazing. He talks about the X’s and O’s, practice tactics and the game more than any other coach in the league. He spoke for 15 minutes after Game 1 and made no secret of his tactical strategy for Connor McDavid. He even talked about what he expected from Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft.

And so, the Penguins’ next general manager needs to assess the Penguins “should score,” versus their lack of scoring, and one area that needs to be strongly and immediately addressed is speed from depth. Getting the forecheck, getting the puck and passing the momentum to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin would immediately elevate the Penguins significantly.

There are more areas to address, like net presence at both ends of the rink or a better blue line, but going back to a quick forecheck throughout the lineup would cover a lot of ills.

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