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NHL playoff streak of 16 seasons for Pittsburgh Penguins ends: Why it occurred

The Pittsburgh Penguins have the longest ongoing postseason streak among North American major professional sports after making the playoffs in Sidney Crosby’s second season (2006–07) and going on to put up an incredible 16-season run.

In 2008, they made it to the Stanley Cup Final; they won it all in 2009; and in 2016 and 2017, they won back-to-back championships. After securing team-friendly contracts to keep the core intact this past offseason, they wanted to prolong their postseason run.

The Penguins were in charge of their playoff destiny this week despite having a middling season, requiring victories against two of the league’s poorest clubs to secure a wild-card position. Nevertheless, they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, and the New York Islanders’ victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday removed them from playoff contention.

The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest active NHL postseason streaks, with the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators also missing the playoffs. By punching their postseason tickets this year, both clubs increased their streaks to seven seasons.

Why did the Pittsburgh Penguins’ winning streak in the postseason end?

Pay cap issues
In order to play alongside Crosby, who has three years left at a $8.7 million salary hit, the Penguins signed centre Evgeni Malkin (four years, $24.6 million) and defenseman Kris Letang (six years, $36.6 million) in the offseason. This allowed them to maintain the Big 3 lineup. They also acquired defenseman Jeff Petry (cap hit of $6.25 million) through trade.

All season long, those actions kept the Penguins just above the cap. On the same day as the Petry trade, they swapped John Marino for Ty Smith, but Smith had to play in all but nine of those games in the AHL.

Until well before the deadline, GM Ron Hextall’s options were limited by cap issues.

Low output from the bottom six forwards

The top six players, led by Crosby (91 points), are doing their jobs, especially Malkin, who has played in every game after multiple seasons marred by injuries and has 83 points. Nonetheless, Jeff Carter, who has 29 points, is the top scorer among the bottom six. Before being traded, Teddy Blueger had 10 points and Brock McGinn had 16.

Attempts that were unsuccessful

After a 45-point season in 2021–2022, Hextall re-signed Carter to a two–year, $6.25–million contract. He will be 39 when the contract expires and has experienced two extended goal droughts this season. The Penguins won’t benefit if they buy out Carter because he has an over-35 deal.

Kasperi Kapanen received a qualifying offer from the Penguins following a 32-point season in which he was frequently benched. In addition to signing a two-year, $6.4 million contract with the same cap hit as last season, he filed for salary arbitration. He had 20 points in 43 games after being a healthy scratch early in the season before being discarded and taken up by the St. Louis Blues.

additional absences due to injuries
Throughout a difficult season, Letang has missed 18 games. Together with dealing with his father’s passing and a lower-body injury, he experienced his second stroke of his career. Marcus Pettersson has not played since March 18, and the defensemen Jan Rutta and Petry have missed 25 and 21 games, respectively. Tristan Jarry, the No. 1 goaltender, missed 17 games due to an injury.

Too late and too little

Just before the deadline, Hextall took action. Mikael Granlund, Nick Bonino, and Dmitry Kulikov arrived after Kapanen, McGinn, and Blueger had already left. Granlund, however, has just one season left and a $5 million cap hit despite only having five points in 20 games. With a ruptured kidney, Bonino is sidelined indefinitely, and Kulikov has missed the previous 14 contests.

Just 9-9-1 in their games since the trade deadline, the Penguins.

Next, what?
The Penguins, who haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 2010, are probably going to assess Hextall’s future after their one playoff victory. This season will be compared to some of his more notable actions, such signing and signing Rickard Rakell and re-signing both Malkin and Letang when many people believed that wouldn’t be feasible.

After a successful campaign, pending unrestricted free agent Jason Zucker might receive a new contract. Josh Archibald, Jarry, Brian Dumoulin, Kulikov, Danton Heinen, and other prospective UFAs must be decided upon by Pittsburgh. Given that the two-time All-Star is frequently injured, choosing Jarry will be difficult.

To return to the playoffs, the Penguins will also need to strengthen their defence and forward positions.

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