Denis Herron was a rookie with the Penguins in 1972 when an older goaltender “showed me the ropes a little bit.” That was Jim Rutherford.
The two former goalies were reunited Tuesday when they played in the Penguins’ annual alumni charity golf outing at Valley Brook Country Club.
Rutherford now is the team’s general manager after an offseason heavy with change following a fifth year in a row of the Penguins failing to reach the Stanley Cup final and losing to a lower seed in the playoffs — this time blowing a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in the second round.
“It doesn’t surprise me. They needed change,” Herron said of a housecleaning that also ushered in a new coaching staff and a considerable roster turnover.
Randy Hillier was a Penguins defenseman in the 1980s and early 1990s. He still refers to the team as “we” and follows it closely.
“There are expectations with this organization. We’ve arguably got the two best players in the league,” he said of centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. “With that come expectations of going deeper into the playoffs. When you, I guess, underachieve over the last several years in terms of that — our regular seasons have been great, but we haven’t gotten deeper in the playoffs — change is expected.
“I’m not surprised by it. I feel bad for the guys who have left, but the ownership wants more — and rightfully so.”
That seemed to be a common theme among some of the former players as they got ready to tee off.
“Change is good sometimes. You never know what it brings,” said former defenseman Peter Taglianetti. “You can get stale. Messages get lost.
“There are always consequences for not winning. That’s the bottom line. If you have a high-profile team — or any team — you’re expected to do well. In the regular season you do very well, but then it’s crunch time in the playoffs.”
Like Taglianetti, winger Troy Loney was part of Penguins Stanley Cup championship teams in 1991 and 1992. And, like Taglianetti, he expected some upheaval this offseason.
“It’s change that I think everybody thought needed to happen, but change always causes concern for everybody, and it also creates a lot of opportunity,” Loney said.
He believes there might need to be a tradeoff in which the Penguins work on putting things together properly in the regular season, then reap the rewards with a strong postseason run. He expects to get a read on that by watching to see if the team aggressively addresses certain areas that have been deemed lacking, perhaps such as physical play. Training camp opens in a few weeks.
“Are people going to have the patience to maybe not have the success during the regular season but have a little bit more success in the playoffs?” Loney said.
“Ultimately, everyone’s going to look to the playoffs again and say, ‘Yes, this worked, or ‘no, it didn’t.’”
Hillier is eager to see which defensive prospects get a chance to play this season and how they do, but his outlook is based more on star power.
“When you have Crosby and Malkin, and given how these guys finished last year, these guys have to be hungry,” Hillier said.
“They’re hearing and reading about everything that’s being said out there. They’re professional. They want to win as badly or more than anybody.
“I’m optimistic about them having that in their stomachs as they start camp and go throughout the season. I’m sure they’ll be reminded by just about everyone they bump into as to having great regular seasons and falling a little short in the playoffs. I think there will be a lot of motivation from within.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.
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