It is nearly impossible for a new general manager or head coach hire to lose their introductory press conference.
There is always a renewed feeling of optimism, everybody says the right things, and everybody is going to do the best job ever. Heck, I think even Ron Hextall sounded fine when he was introduced in Pittsburgh.
But Thursday’s Kyle Dubas introduction with the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed to go well beyond that for a number of reasons.
First, Dubas is very good at what he does. Not only in terms of being a hockey executive, but also in terms of talking to the media. He was clear, he spoke with authority, he seems to have a real vision, plan and understanding for what this job is going to entail.
All of that was a complete 180 from what we saw here over the past two-plus years, where there seemed to be no plan, no sense of direction, no clarity, and very little communication between the front office and the fans.
Dubas is not arriving in Pittsburgh with a perfect resume. If he had that, he would still be working in Toronto.
You can easily find things to criticize about his tenure with the Maple Leafs and individual moves to look back at and question. Not everything went according to plan, and the playoff track record is what it is.
But the things he does do well are the very things that the Penguins lacked under Brian Burke and Ron Hextall.
While he might pushback on the idea of him being strictly an analytics guy, he can help bring the Penguins into the current century when it comes to player evaluation. He is also very good at building an organizational structure, identity and a front office that can cover all grounds. That is why I really like him in the director of hockey operations role. He can bring in a general manager to work with him in building a roster. He can build the front office, the GM can focus more on the roster, and together they are hopefully better than what they are replacing.
It would almost be impossible to be worse.
He also seems to understand what the mindset is in the final years of the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang era. Which ties into another of Dubas’ strengths.
He is very good at filling in a roster around the edges and at the margins. He didn’t have much flexibility in Toronto given the sizable contracts to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, but his front office still did a solid job finding players like Michael Bunting, Calle Jarnkrok, and Ilya Mikheyev among others to help balance that out.
And that, more than anything, is what this current Penguins team needs. Badly.
The core pieces are still there, and they are still good, and they are still very capable of winning as long as they get some help around them. And their contracts are such that it should be possible.
Dubas mentioned the intriguing opportunity he has this offseason with more than $20 million in salary cap space to work with. A number that could jump up by another $4 million with a buyout to Mikael Granlund.
That is the type of flexibility he never really had in Toronto.
The question is what is he going to do with it, and will he find a way to increase it? And can his time in Toronto offer us a window
Based on Dubas’ history with the Maple Leafs the Penguins are about to get a significantly more active and aggressive front office.
Dubas likes to make moves. And he likes to change things. And he is not afraid to deal his first-round pick.
That puts all eyes on that No. 14 overall pick over the coming weeks. Dubas has traded down from his first-round spot, he has traded that pick for players, and he has even used his first-round pick to dump problematic contracts (like Patrick Marleau and Petr Mrazek). Given that history it seems very — VERY — unlikely that the Penguins actually make the 14th overall pick in this month’s draft. They are either going to move back and collect more picks (which they need for multiple reasons), it is either going to be moved for somebody that can help now, or it could even be more to jettison a contract (or contracts) they do not want.
The other thing I am going to be curious to watch is how he handles the goalie position.
He talked about Tristan Jarry on Thursday and left the door open for him to return. But should that be a surprise?
If Jarry were a free agent coming from another team, he seems to be the type of goalie that Dubas would like to target in the offseason. As much as we would like to see the Penguins make a bold swing for somebody like Connor Hellebuyck or Juuse Saros, that does not really seem to be Dubas’ style for the position.
He legitimately seems to be a “goaltending is random witchcraft” kind of GM, and his moves kind of back that up.
Last offseason he bought low on Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray to fix his position, with varying degrees of success. Samsonov was fine when he was healthy, Murray did not work out at all.
Prior to that, it was Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek.
It would not be surprise me in the least if after evaluating all of the goaltending options that could be available, and when taking into account cost, salary, trade assets and production, that Jarry is deemed in his mind to be the best option.
That might not make many people happy, but the track for the type of goalie he looks for is pretty clear.
The yet-to-be-named general manager could also play a pretty big role in all of this.
No matter what the actual moves look like, a new day has arrived in Pittsburgh and things are about to get very different — and a lot more aggressive — from what we saw the past couple of years. That can only be a good thing.