It’s been three weeks since Kyle Dubas was announced as the Pittsburgh Penguins President of Hockey Operations. As promised then, he met with the media again today ahead of next week’s NHL draft.
When he did his introductory press conference, Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas said he’d probably be speaking to us again around the draft. That availability is happening now in Cranberry. pic.twitter.com/GadQ4K2ZtA— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) June 23, 2023
Some of the highlights:
- Dubas spoke about adjusting to Pittsburgh and that the city feels more like where he grew up in Sault Ste. Marie than the big city vibes of Toronto. Basic and perfunctory stuff about being happy to be in a new spot, but sounded genuine enough (which seems to be a Dubas personality strong point) like when joking that the people have been nice, while noting that they hadn’t lost any games yet either.
- Onto the more important topics, Dubas indicated that he isn’t a fan of buyouts and will seek “more creative ways” to parse salary where he feels necessary. The NHL’s buyout window is open for another week, but it doesn’t look like the Pens will be going that route.
- Dubas also indicated that he was anticipating keeping and using the 2023 first round pick (No. 14 overall) while also admitting the player selected won’t be ready for at least two or three years. While he leaned towards staying in the first round next week, Dubas said the team would consider trading up or down depending on any best player available targets that presented themselves.
- In the bigger scope, Dubas talked about building up the system with young prospects and not trading them away, though it was qualified with that an “impactful, young” NHL caliber player might cause the Pens to trade away future assets.
- The Pens currently have about $20 million in salary cap space (currently one of the highest in the league) and Dubas showed interest in using that space in order to acquire from teams that aren’t in as good of shape. In recent years, the NHL has seen players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Burns, Max Pacioretty, Sean Monahan, Matt Murray and Shayne Gostisbehere (among others) traded for virtually or literally nothing in some cases, sometimes even getting draft picks to help entice taking a burdensome salary off a team’s hands.
- The plan for the bottom six forward group sounds like free agents on short contracts. (And there was much rejoicing!)
- Similarly, based on these comments, it doesn’t look like Dubas is interested in adding premier free agents who will be able to command lengthy and high-dollar deals this summer.
- Dubas expressed happiness in getting to know and working with Mike Sullivan and stressed the importance as a manager of making sure future acquisitions would be the right players and fit for his coach to utilize in the lineup, and the general importance of a good working relationship between front office and coach.
- When the league convenes at the draft next week Dubas said he will speak with the agents of Jason Zucker, Tristan Jarry and Brian Dumoulin to get a sense of their contract positioning, with stay/go decisions likely to be known at that point. (As in: if contracts don’t happen with those players around Wednesday/Thursday, the path to a return isn’t looking so likely for any of them..)
Overall, a very measured tone from Dubas as he prepares to embark on the busy part of his first off-season in Pittsburgh. We’ll see if the cards he put down on the table is a strategy that he ends up sticking to, or if circumstances change enough to dictate him moving onto different courses of action.
From the sounds of it, he likes the current salary cap position the team is in and the main takeaway would be to not expect any buyout of a player like Mikael Granlund to open up even more space at the cost of future cap penalties. In the same breath as mentioning no buyouts, Dubas also reflected on solving problems in other manners, which brings hope that issues will be addressed to improve the team by shedding under-performers, just through different methods.
But those methods based on these comments won’t include using the first round pick to unsaddle Pittsburgh of undesirables. In the past, that hasn’t been the case as Dubas used first rounders to unload Petr Mrazek and Patrick Marleau over the years to clear up space. But that was a Toronto team with a cap situation that badly needed such space to work, and that isn’t what the Penguins are dealing with this moment with a ton of space this year. Overall, not only do the Pens have a lot of cap room now, but as of now also have perhaps up to $50 million to work with in the following season (2024-25) considering current contracts on the books by that point, a long-awaited cap increase and if he is successful at moving anyone like Granlund, Jan Rutta or Jeff Petry through other methods.
Though sometimes overlooked with the contracts that are around, Pittsburgh’s cap shape is an advantage that they can use moving forward if enough corresponding smart moves are made to supplement the existing franchise cornerstones.
That space will tick down as the moves begin, however today’s comments weren’t aggressive in adding through free agency in major ways — which usually is a day of future regrets for NHL teams that give out lucrative and long-term deals.
Talent acquisition was top of mind, with this quote sticking out as particularly interesting for what Dubas is looking to accomplish.
Kyle Dubas said the No. 1 priority with the NHL roster is adding talent. "Last year, the group here got great performances out of its core players and still missed (the playoffs). So we need to have players in the third and fourth lines that can add certain utilities."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) June 23, 2023
The busiest portion of the NHL off-season is about to commence for Dubas and the Pens. The draft starts on Wednesday and continues on Thursday. Qualifying offers and decisions will have to be finalized by June 30th and then free agency kicks off in eight days, next Saturday July 1st.
Based on these comments, we now know a little bit more about the general plans of not opting for contract buyouts, keeping the first round pick, looking for trades to add salary from teams in a pinch and rounding out the lineup through free agency to add useful lower line players that hopefully can make some positive impacts.
It’s a sensible-sounding plan on paper and as dictated today, but very soon will come the rush to implement it and shape the team with adding talent to move forward.