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Takeaways from the Penguins' 2022-23 Season-Ending Media Availability

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Penguins cleaned out their lockers and did their season-ending media availability on Saturday. Here's a roundup of what the players had to say before going their separate ways.

Contract talk with Zucker, Dumoulin, Jarry (and Crosby)

At this time last year - well, for the previous few years, really - Sidney Crosby was answering questions about the futures of his longtime teammates. With Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang getting locked up to long-term extensions a couple months later, the conversation has started shifting to whether the captain - who is signed through the 2024-25 season - wants to remain a Penguin forever.

"I'd love to," Crosby responded. "That's been the case since Day 1. I feel really fortunate to have been drafted here and I have great memories. I've got to play with two teammates specifically for a really long time - so, I'd love that to be the case." 

Video: Crosby speaks with the media

While that'll be dealt with further down the line, there are a few notable names set to become unrestricted free agents. We'll start with Jason Zucker, who had his best season as a Penguin after being derailed by injuries for much of his previous tenure here, which began in February 2020 when the team acquired him from Minnesota.

He finished with 27 goals, the second-highest total of his career, while finding a home on a line alongside Evgeni Malkin. The locker room glue guy has become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh with his passion and energy, and Zucker loves the city right back.

"It's a great city. The fan base is unreal," he said. "To me, it's like the perfect sized city. It's a lot of fun to be here. This organization's world-class too, you know everything the Penguins do is top notch. Just a great place to be, great place to play, and for me - I'd love to be back. But now it's obviously out of my control, and we'll figure it out." 

Video: Zucker speaks with the media

Another locker room glue guy is Brian Dumoulin, who became the biggest piece of the 2012 draft-day blockbuster trade with Carolina that brought him, Brandon Sutter and a first-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Jordan Staal. Letang called Dumoulin the best D partner he's ever had, which means a lot to the two-time Stanley Cup Champion, who said he absolutely wants to keep playing here. 

"Without a doubt," he said. "I love this group, I love the guys - this is family to me. These are guys that I've gone through a lot with. I know each guy's personality, what gets them going and what doesn't. I've spent so much time here in this room. It'd be kind of hard to leave. But, obviously, take some time and hopefully get away, and then can really think about it." 

Video: Dumoulin speaks with the media

Finally, there's Tristan Jarry, with the goaltender having spent his entire professional career with the Penguins organization after Pittsburgh traded up to take him in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, and doesn't want to play anywhere else. "I've only been a Penguin, and I only want to be a Penguin. That's my goal, and that's how I'm going into the offseason," said the netminder, who turns 28 at the end of this month.

For the second summer in a row, Jarry will be trying to get healthy after being injured for most of the year, saying he had to play through a lot - especially during the second half of the season, which was well-documented. "What I was dealing with wasn't going to be fixed, so either it was something I played through or don't play at all, and I couldn't just watch," he said. "It's not me. Every day I wanted to be out there, no matter what."

Fortunately, Jarry won't need surgery, and said there's a plan in place for his recovery. "It'll be something I'll have to take day by day, and something that I'll have to watch. Hopefully, it goes quick," he said.

Video: Jarry speaks with the media

Pittsburgh's other pending unrestricted free agents are Danton Heinen, Josh Archibald and trade deadline acquisitions Dmitry Kulikov and Nick Bonino. Ryan Poehling, Drew O'Connor and Alex Nylander are set to be restricted free agents.

More on players' injury situations

Bonino went into detail on the lacerated kidney he suffered in a game against the Islanders that derailed his second stint in Pittsburgh after coming over from San Jose.

"My elbow kind of got caught between the boards and my ribs and jammed into me, and I kind of lost my breath," he said. "So, I went off and we X-rayed it to see if there was a broken rib, and it wasn't broken. So, I made the decision to go back and play."

When Bonino went to use the restroom after the game, he said his urine looked like "red wine." After they ruled out that Bonino didn't consume anything that may have caused that color and that it was, in fact, blood, he went to the hospital went to the hospital. "It was a Grade 4 kidney laceration, and had to put a stent in with a scope and go up and look at everything. That was very unpleasant."

Video: Bonino speaks with the media

Apart from that, there wasn't much divulged about injury situations. Bryan Rust did say he got injured in the third period of the regular-season finale in Columbus, but should be fine. Rickard Rakell isn't going to represent Sweden at the World Championship since he's got some minor issues to take care of.

"Guys are going through exit medicals right now. My understanding to this point is that I don't know of anyone that is going to require surgery," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "I've never been one to really want to talk about specifics on players and their injuries. What I will tell you is that we never put them in harm's way. Their safety is always first and foremost with our guys. 

"But having said that, risk is part of being a pro athlete… a lot of guys don't play 100% through the course of the year. There's probably the first three or four days of training camp where everybody feels really good. Other than that, everybody deals with bumps and bruises throughout the course of the year. That's how hard the game is. That's just the reality of the sport."

Digesting what happened Thursday, with the regular season ending and no playoffs on the horizon

Missing the playoffs is a feeling Crosby hasn't experienced since his rookie season, and this has been a tough reminder of just how difficult it truly is to earn the right to compete for a Stanley Cup.

"When you start going through specific games over the course of the year that you let slide, and you see how close we were, it's tough. It's a fine line," he said. "You understand from having to compete and get there every year, but when you're on the outside looking in and looking at all those situations, you realize that even more."

For everyone in that room, it's even more frustrating considering that the Penguins were in really good positions to win matchups, and just didn't close teams out when they had leads. "We got nobody to blame but ourselves. We didn't find the consistency we needed, and ultimately hurt us," Zucker said.

Now, after finishing one point out of a spot, the Penguins will never know how far they could have gone with this group in a season that Crosby felt didn't have much separation. "Boston's had an incredible year, and that's pretty rare to see what they're doing. But for the most part, after that, all the teams are pretty close," he said. "So it's a matter of getting in there and then seeing what happens. Just to not be able to get in there, that's tough."

"We know there is more to give in this room, there's guys in this room who probably say, hey there are things I could have done better to help get this team into the playoffs and do something, me included," Bryan Rust said. "We know that there was more, and it's extremely unfortunate that we weren't able to capitalize on how good of a team we had here and the potential to do something great. Definitely stings a little bit."

The captain said that for him, the biggest thing going into the offseason is that they learn from this situation, so that it doesn't happen again anytime soon. "I think that's something that we'll have a lot of time to dissect it," he said. "But hopefully, we're a motivated group because of going through this."

Digesting what happened yesterday, with the Penguins making changes to hockey operations

Crosby said that nobody feels good after everything that happened yesterday, with the Penguins relieving President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, General Manager Ron Hextall and Assistant General Manager Chris Pryor of their duties (more details here). "I think we all feel responsible," the captain said.

Crosby said that whenever a team loses, there's typically always some sort of turnover or change - with Rust saying it's inevitable in an organization like this, with a winning culture and high expectations.

"Those things happen in our sport when we don't live up to expectations, and I think us not getting to where we wanted to go as a team definitely didn't help the situation," he said.

Video: Rust speaks with the media

Penguins President of Business Operations Kevin Acklin and Co-Head of Fenway Sports Management and Pittsburgh Penguins Alternate Governor Dave Beeston discussed the situation (full story here).

For the time being, managerial duties of hockey operations will be shared among current Director of Hockey Operations Alec Schall, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton General Manager/Manager of Hockey Operations Erik Heasley and Hockey Operations Analyst Andy Saucier. Sullivan will also assist during the transition.

"FSG will go through a process to find a new general manager that will lead our team moving forward. In the meantime, we've got to do our best to continue to operate efficiently and effectively," Sullivan said. "There's a number of people that are part of that process, me being one. I think my role in it is just going to be the hockey side - assessing our team, where we're at, where we think we need to go moving forward, identifying needs, things of that nature."

So much love for Pittsburgh

Many of the guys reiterated just how much they enjoy playing in this city and for this fanbase, and I thought this anecdote from Nick Bonino summed it up best:

"Four days after I got hurt, I was going into Giant Eagle to buy some soup, and a guy rolled his window down out of nowhere and was like, "get better, Bones!" I think that's Pittsburgh. The fans love the team, and that's what makes it even harder when we don't succeed. I love everything about Pittsburgh."

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