When the sky seemed like it was falling in early December, Kyle Dubas went on record that he was going to give his team time to see how the season went. Dubas cited the All Star break as a specific time to react to what the team was telling him through their play.
Two games away from the break, Dubas might need a little more time.
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NHL Insider Chris Johnston had the following to say on the topic of the Penguins:
“On reaching out to him [Tuesday], it doesn’t sound like as though that was a hard deadline, that on January 27 he would know that direction. So, Dubas, even after the two games to end the first half for the Penguins, is going to keep watching beyond that point. He insists his team will make decisions for him.”
The Pens are 10-5-3 since Dubas made his comments in December, but remain in the muddy middle of the pack. Even lately, the team has been all over the place, shutting out a red hot Seattle team before blowing a two-goal third period lead in Vegas and then having an embarrassing stumble in Arizona.
Some good news for the Penguins is that despite their recent stumbles, their competition is floundering as well. Philadelphia has lost three straight games and their starting goalie took a leave of absence. Washington has lost their last two games. Detroit and the Islanders lost last night as well. The East remains fairly mediocre and unimpressive on the whole.
Yet, the Pens currently sit 11th in the conference in points percentage in the standings. They still have a lot of work to do in order to simply be in a position to make the playoffs.
Dubas has limited options for call-ups from the AHL at this point. Reilly Smith is skating again and could be back soon after the break, which is an upgrade on paper and in theory but will require more out of Smith.
And the Pens have the Jake Guentzel decision lingering, which hangs over all procedures for team direction at this point. Dubas can only wait so long on that, the NHL trade deadline is on March 8th.
In reality, waiting and seeing is the prudent course. Pittsburgh is littered with no movement contracts and Dubas himself went more for the “all in” route by trading for Erik Karlsson and giving out a ton of multi-year contracts last summer to Tristan Jarry, Ryan Graves, Noel Acciari, Lars Eller and picking up Smith in a trade. The Pens aren’t in a position to strip down that much.
The problem remains their place in the standings shows an unimpressive team that isn’t on track to make many waves on their own. The Karlsson addition hasn’t had a Phil Kessel-like impact to give a huge boost to a team on the brink of taking the next step forward.
Dubas is giving his veteran team time and all the chances in the world, but the clock is ticking. He may prefer to give it every chance possible, but now near the (unofficial) halfway point of the NHL’s season, direction is becoming needed more and more.
Based on the comments above, it doesn’t look like Dubas is in a hurry to decide about trading Guentzel in the very near future, but that option has to be on the table if the season keeps going as it has been. The Penguins are not a team of surprises and one personnel or management decision away from changing that much. That leaves Dubas in a spot to do what he has since December, and in fact most of the season, to observe and plan for when the time comes to chart whatever course it is going to be for the Penguins this season. That might mean even extending his point of the All Star break a while longer to see the picture develop further.