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Reilly Smith should be the perfect Jason Zucker replacement

Kyle Dubas at least seems to have some sort of a plan.

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There are a lot of things to like about the Pittsburgh Penguins addition of Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights.

For one, it showed that Kyle Dubas seems to at least have some sort of a plan and an actual reason for doing things instead of just going off of whatever vibe he was feeling on a particular day.

He knew he probably needed a replacement for Jason Zucker, and rather than waiting for free agency to start or having to get into a bidding war for somebody worse, he proactively went for a trade that makes a lot of sense.

Then there is the fact that Smith seems to be a really, really good replacement for Zucker. Maybe even a perfect replacement.

Finally, the price was right. Not only in terms of the salary cap commitment and the term remaining on the contract, but also only having to give up a third-round pick that originally belonged to Vegas anyway (acquired in the Teddy Blueger trade). Basically, the Penguins traded Blueger for Reilly Smith in an indirect way.

That works for me.

Dubas has talked about teams around the league needing to shed salary and being able to make some strong deals based off of that desperation, and this seems to be a very good example of that.

But let’s get back to why Smith should be such a good fit and strong replacement for Zucker.

On the surface, it might be kind of weird to see another player on the wrong side of 30 being celebrated as such a strong move. After all, that was a big part of the issue with guys like Jeff Petry, Jeff Carter and Mikael Granlund from the Ron Hextall era. An older team gets older and all of that stuff. But this does not strike me as the same sort of deal.

Mainly because unlike Granlund, Smith actually fits a need that the team has.

And unlike Carter and Petry, he should still be good. Maybe even very good.

While I hate the idea of losing Zucker given how good, consistent and valuable he was this past season, there are so many more variables that go into a decision like that.

In terms of age and production, Smith and Zucker were almost identical during the 2022-23 season. Smith also seems to be a great fit for Mike Sullivan’s style of play given how good he is off the rush and in transition.

From a hockey standpoint, it works.

It also works from a money standpoint, which is the really big deciding factor here.

Smith will count exactly the same against the cap, bringing in a $5 million salary cap number for the next two season. This is a key component in the equation because it seems like a very strong possibility that not only is Zucker going to command more than that on his next deal, but he is also probably going to get significantly more years.

Not only is Zucker a good player coming off of an outstanding performance, he had that performance in a contract year while heading into one of the weakest unrestricted free agent signing classes we have seen in years. There are almost no impact players available, and the next tier of players are going to get contracts that are shocking. Even by NHL free agency standards.

The Penguins are getting a similar player, with similar production, and almost certainly on a cheaper salary cap hit with less term — which is very important when you are talking about players already into their 30s.

The Penguins do not need Smith to be a productive player for four or five years.

They need him to be a productive player for one or two years.

I do not know where exactly Smith is going to fit in the Penguins’ lineup, but he can play in a variety of spots and probably work with any of their centers.

They still need more help beyond him and can not just be satisfied with that one move.

But it is a start.

It is a promising start to the offseason and a promising start to Kyle Dubas’ tenure running the team. There at least seems to be a method to the madness, which is already more than we can say about the previous front office.