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What Kyle Dubas’ off-season past can show about what he might do in the future?

Looking back at the Pens’ new leader’s past moves to forecast what he might have learned moving forward

2022 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic Buildout Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Every off-season, managers have major choices to make about personnel on their team and for Kyle Dubas jumping into Pittsburgh that will be the case. He will have to replace or re-sign Tristan Jarry and Jason Zucker, and probably jump straight to replace on Brian Dumoulin. There’s the lingering trade or buyout cloud over Mikael Granlund to free up more cap space and improve the team. And other unforeseen moves as Dubas shapes the Pens.

Looking back on his history, here’s some important summer decisions made and what they could mean for the Pens going forward.

Learning about Toronto’s draft history and preferences under Kyle Dubas

Summer 2018

Signed John Tavares $11.0 million for seven years

—Toronto’s only major move was a very major one in landing the hometown boy Tavares on an expensive contract. Tavares is probably the most high-profile player in the NHL’s cap era to ever change teams in free agency, and while he did take a little less in order to pick his team, it’s still a big hit. Tavares and Auston Matthews would go onto provide one of the best 1-2 punches at center for the Leafs over the last five years. Now, Dubas gets a similar situation with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin composing of a legendary 1-2 punch down the middle. The Penguin duo is older, but they also count a combined $7.8 million less against the salary cap than Matthews/Tavares do these days.

Summer 2019

Traded Patrick Marleau and a 2020 first round pick to Carolina to dump his salary

—With Tavares on board, Marleau was a surplus player, and fading with age. His $6.25 million hit needed to go. Toronto paid a high price, but it was necessary work to clear some room from his predecessor. Fast forward to now, and the Pens can’t afford to off-load Granlund for a first round pick, but Dubas will need to find a way to remove the player and improve cap space for the least amount of pain possible.

Traded Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen to Colorado for Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Barrie

—This move didn’t age well when Kadri exploded in 2022 to help the Avs win the Stanley Cup, but it looked OK for a while until then. Kadri’s points the last three seasons with Toronto went: 61, 55, 44. Then in Colorado his first two years he recorded 36 and 32 points, before coming into his own with 87 points in 2021-22. Give Kadri credit for the mid-career renaissance but it’s not a knock on Dubas. Kerfoot (132) scored almost as many points with the Leafs as Kadri did (155) with Colorado. Barrie was a top-four defender. It’s a controversial trade, and certainly one the Avs are happy to make, but it’s not truly as bad as the reputation that proceeds it for Toronto.

Traded Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown to Ottawa for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur and a third round pick

—Zaitsev still had five seasons remaining on a $4.5 million cap hit that many thought was unmoveable. Dubas cleaned up his predecessor Lou Lamoriello’s mistake here in a major way. Ceci was an unpopular punchline of a player, but started his career turnaround in Toronto before getting even more of the stench off him in Pittsburgh the following season. But this deal would have been a win for Toronto just to wiggle out of Zaitsev’s terrible contract.

RFA dealings

—Alex Kerfoot, Cody Ceci, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johansson were all (except Ceci) re-signed for multi-years in the mid-level $3.2-$4.5 million zone. It was good business by Dubas, any player who wasn’t carrying their weight was able to be traded off without much pain. Those who did well, like Kerfoot, stayed and contributed above their pay grade for the duration of the contract.

Summer 2020

Traded Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh for 2020 first round pick and Filip Hallander

—Remember above dumping a first rounder with Marleau? Well it’s more than made up for here. Hallander was a decent enough prospect at a time, and Toronto got a crack at seeing his best early years to see what he would grow into. Wasn’t an NHLer, but was worth the chance. Kapanen had stagnated with the Leafs and getting a mid-round first for him was a nice piece of business for Dubas.

Traded Andreas Johnnson to New Jersey for Joey Anderson

—Proved to be the perfect time to clear space and pass off on Johnsson, whose career had already peaked and was only going to turn into an anchor with three years and $3.4 million remaining on his deal. Good eval by Dubas to reward Johnsson with a long-deal in 2019 coming off a 20 goal, 43 point season, but then realize after a down year that he wasn’t an impact player and likely to not be worth keeping for three more years. Anderson was a high-ceiling player that couldn’t rise above a low floor, but no matter, getting out of Johnsson’s deal before it turned too bad was smart work.

Signed TJ Brodie to a four year, $5.0m annual cap hit

—Using some of the cap space gained from dealing Kapanen and Johnsson, Dubas added a proven, veteran top-four left handed defender who wasn’t old for reasonable money and not a super-long term. Let’s hope he can do the same in his first summer in Pittsburgh!

Summer 2021

Traded Hallander to Pittsburgh for Jared McCann

-Something of an unforced error by Dubas to acquire McCann for low cost to be his Seattle expansion tribute and not lose a piece of his roster...Only to miss out on keeping McCann to upgrade his own roster. Close to being a home run, but as it stands, he still maneuvered into not giving up a lot from his own team to the Kraken.

Signed Mrazek, Kampf, Ritchie, Bunting

—Two out of four ain’t bad. The Mrazek experiment, as we’ll see was short-lived and unsuccessful. Michael Bunting and David Kampf provided excellent low-cost pieces for the lineup. Nick Ritchie was coming off a promising season but struggled and quickly moved out of Toronto during the season. What these signings showed is scouring to find value, and keeping them if there was, but moving on mighty quick if it wasn’t working out.

Summer 2022

Traded Mrazek and pick 25 to Chicago for pick 38

—Dubas danced around the last two years of the $3.8 million cap hit that he gave Mrazek and it only cost him 13 spots in the draft. Not a bad piece of tidying.

Got Matt Murray at 75% and a third round pick from Ottawa for free via trade

—But then Dubas made a miscalculation in taking the space freed from Mrazek and handing it (and about $800k more) straight to Matt Murray in a decision that predictably didn’t work out.

Signed Ilya Samsonov, one year $1.8 million

—But the second part of Dubas’s goalie tandem paid off in spades. Samsonov went 27-10-5 with a .919 save% in Toronto, finally building a bit on the talent he showed in Washington with some consistency. Considering the free agent goalie market last summer, Dubas got a great value out of Samsonov for what the departing Jack Campbell got to go to Edmonton ($5.0m cap hit) to fall flat.

Summer 2023

Dubas will add the following items to his history based on what he decides for several inflection points this off-season

-Goalie situation for Jarry or a replacement? Dubas needs to find a Samsonov, not a Mrazek/Murray. His history of picking goaltenders has been all over the map, and isn’t spotless but will be an important area to get right this summer.
-Rebuilding the bottom-six through either trades or free agency. Of all Dubas’s moves, this could be the most exciting to watch him get to work to upgrade the team. He has a history of constructing deep forward groups and finding a good mix of muckers and grinders to go along with his skill players.
-Adding a piece to the top in the Zucker spot? Notable in the introductory press conference was Dubas praising the top-six but also openly wondering if they would look to bring something further into help them. Clear Granlund via trade or buyout and that opens up even more cap space to work with and fit in a big ticket.
-Settling the defense. Whether it’s been Brodie, Ceci or Barrie, Dubas has used the summer to upgrade his defense. He could definitely use a Brodie-like addition this time around.
-Keeping or trading the first round pick. Speaks for itself, but with Dubas talking about building the system up and getting more young talent, it might make sense to draft a forward with upside that they hope could be cutting into the NHL in 2-3 years.