What direction should the next Penguins GM take: Time to rebuild or keep going for it?

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Mike Brehm, Jace Evans and Jimmy Hascup, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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Jim Rutherford shocked the hockey world last week when he abruptly resigned as Pittsburgh Penguins general manager seven games into the season.

Pittsburgh won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 under Rutherford, who said he was leaving for personal reasons. He was considered an aggressive trader who made moves before the deadline to keep the Penguins as contenders.

Patrik Allvin was named interim GM, but the team is looking for a full-time general manager.

The Penguins' core (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang) is 33 or older and the team struggled in its past two postseasons: swept in the first round in 2019 and losing in the qualifying round last season.

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Which direction should the team and the new general manager go? USA TODAY Sports' hockey experts weigh in:

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is off to a slow start.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is off to a slow start.

Start the rebuild: It's finally time for the Penguins to start looking toward the future. They've spent years going all-in, but the bill is coming due for the aggressiveness that helped create a 14-year postseason streak and three titles. The team did not pick in the first round in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2020 and no draft pick the team has made since 2015 has reached the NHL. There's not a ton of high-end young talent in this system. Replenishing the prospect pool before completely bottoming out (see the Detroit Red Wings) will help make the inevitable down period less painful. Malkin is 34, has started this season with five points in 10 games – small sample, but it's the worst points-per-game mark of his career – and has just one year left on his contract. Is his decline real? Is he still part of the future? The same questions can be asked of Letang, who also has just one year left on his deal. It might be painful to part with Nos. 71 and 58 but doing so now while they still have value will help the Pens get the premium prospects and picks needed to jump-start the next competitive era of Penguins hockey, with Crosby, 33, still around. — Jace Evans

Play it by ear: The Penguins are barely in playoff position, the defense is banged up and Malkin is off to a slow start. Rutherford would probably try to trade his way out of this situation, but there's little cap room and no 2021 first-round pick to offer. The new general manager doesn't need to act now. The Penguins might be able to squeak into the playoffs, though even if they do, they don't have the roster to get past the Boston Bruins. The Penguins can start negotiating extensions for Malkin and Letang this summer. See how that goes, and if it doesn't go well, then they can trade one or both to start a rebuild. — Mike Brehm

Keep it going (sort of): For as long as Crosby is on the team and playing at an elite level, there is no reason to hit the rebuild button. That doesn't mean the new general manager should be irresponsible, but trades should not be made with a long look ahead. Coach Mike Sullivan has shown he can keep this team competitive even as it deals with injuries and a patchwork blue line. Crosby is under contract until 2025-26, and this go-for-it (smartly) mentality can be framed around the next five years. Malkin's and Letang's contracts expire in two seasons; the decisions around each of these two does not have to mean the contender window is completely shut. — Jimmy Hascup

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Penguins debate: What should next GM's approach be with aging roster?