32 Thoughts: Will Kyle Dubas shake up the Pittsburgh Penguins?

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman joins Jeff Marek to discuss takeaways from Penguins GM Kyle Dubas’ press conference, like how he made a point to include Erik Karlsson in their core four, and why it sounded like Crosby isn’t going anywhere, and more.

• Would the Senators consider a reunion with Erik Karlsson?
• If Auston Matthews scores 70 goals should he be a lock for the Hart Trophy?
• How the NHL could do its awards differently in 2024

As Adam Pelech’s first-ever overtime goal bulged the twine, you could feel the pain from Pittsburgh.

The shock on the Penguins’ faces, players bent over in disappointment. A critical point snared by the Islanders, and Pittsburgh eight back of a playoff position, even with two games in hand.

Sixteen hours later, Kyle Dubas was at the podium for a pre-deadline briefing. 

The news wasn’t that he could trade Jake Guentzel. Everyone sees that’s a possibility, if not likely. The news came in what he’s tried to do — and what he’s planning to do.

Asked if he’s considered a move to shake-up the Penguins, Dubas admitted the answer was yes.

“We’ve tried,” he said. “To give that element of a shake-up, I’m not usually a huge proponent of it. But I felt with where our group was, especially coming out of the (All-Star) break, not having a really strong surge out of it. That was one of the things we tried to do, and continue to try to do. (But) the opportunities to do it haven’t been there.”

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That’s different from Dubas. I’ve heard him say several times he doesn’t like making trades just for the sake of it. We’re seeing how circumstances dictate philosophical change. In Toronto, he skippered a ship that always pushed forward, trying to win.

The Penguins are not young. They are the oldest team in the NHL. But the team of Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Karlsson — whom Dubas repeatedly made certain to mention with the other three — is not giving up.

“When you have players like that, they prevent you from (falling to the bottom) because they are too good,” he said. “At the same time, what they can pass on to the players who come into the organization, in terms of the standards that we have here, the impact that being around Sid, Geno, Letang and Karlsson can have on a young player, it’s impossible to measure.

“Everything that we do will be with the intention of delivering a championship contender for the team without them having to go through years of pain to get there. That’s my commitment.”

Crosby has one year remaining on his contract, and can sign an extension July 1. Unless Dubas is blowing one powerful puff of smoke, it’s hard to believe he’d make this promise without Crosby’s approval. I’m operating on that assumption until someone says otherwise.

Pittsburgh must give up its first-rounder this year or next to San Jose as part of the Karlsson trade. Aside from that, Dubas mentioned the team is “well-stocked” in draft capital a couple of times, adding “I can’t see us moving it to bolster the team.”

However, he did add: “Are there moves that would allow us to add good younger players to the organization that can help expedite things and support the group that’s already here? We’re trying to look through all of that. … If there are scenarios where we move some of our younger prospects (for) players that are a little bit older and closer to ready, we would look at all of those things. I don’t think there’s anything at all that’s off the table here. 

“New energy, that’s what we really need.”

Which brings us back to Guentzel. He’s still a terrific player, the No. 1 target available. Crosby does not like any insinuation he interferes in player moves, but you don’t have to be Professor X to read his mind on this one. That’s why there are teams who believe the Penguins will take another run at signing the talented winger. Then again, there are other clubs who want to know if they will be allowed to talk about an extension before making a trade. 

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If Pittsburgh is trying to win, they are better off with Guentzel than without him. And yet, is there anyone else on their roster that can acquire the new energy the Penguins crave?

“We have to take stock of where we’re at,” Dubas said. “Be realistic about the fact that one of the issues we have is we need to get younger.”

THOUGHTS

1. If teams are allowed to try to extend Guentzel before a trade, that hurts Edmonton. They can’t do it. The Oilers are also very aware that for every dollar that comes in, someone needs to go out. So, they are doing legwork in several different directions. 

2. Please recognize that this is manifesting purely in my head. But, as I watch Daniel Alfredsson on the bench in Ottawa, I can’t help but wonder if the Senators consider a Karlsson reunion. At least, brainstorm it. Yes, it’s complicated and yes, everyone would have to be on board. But no one mind-melds with Karlsson like Alfredsson, and, since it got into my head, I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of it. 

3. Speaking of reunions, what does everyone think of Reilly Smith and Florida?

4. Colorado’s search for a centre may take the Avs through Arizona. They know Alex Kerfoot, and could also consider Nick Bjugstad. Another Coyote name to watch is Michael Carcone, who was red-hot earlier in the season. He’s got 15 goals. 

5. Another under-the-radar centre is Nashville’s Tommy Novak. Unrestricted, the Predators wish to sign him, but it’s a unique salary case in there are so few comparables. He can score — 43 points in 51 games last year, heating up with four goals in Nashville’s last five games. If they can’t keep him, there will be interest. He’s making $800,000. When it comes to Juuse Saros, there was a time it was 99 per cent certain he’d stay in Tennessee. Now, people who know better than I do think it is closer to 50/50.

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6. Doug Armstrong never talks about this stuff, but the price on Pavel Buchnevich is said to be very high. The versatile forward has another year under contract. Two firsts, or something like it?

7. Interested parties do not believe David Savard wishes to leave Montreal. 

8. Teams have asked Buffalo about Alex Tuch, but the Sabres value him.

9. The Flames Foundation raised $500,000 at its annual celebrity poker tournament on Tuesday night, as this maelstrom of deadline craziness continues. Tight cap situations across the league don’t help, as interested parties benefit salary-wise by waiting as long as possible to make their move. One thing that’s definitely happened: Calgary and the respective agents are trying to ease the noise by restricting information. Good for them, bad for us. So there’s no official confirmation Noah Hanifin is going to the market, but that’s where this is headed.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the Lightning — which, on paper, makes a lot of sense — but look at the trade the Flames made for Elias Lindholm. Can the Lightning put together a similar package, knowing there will be competition? It’s hard to see. Toronto made a pitch, and would want to know the possibility of signing him, but Hanifin appears headed for the U.S. on a long-term basis. Teams want to know where he’s willing to sign. 

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10. With Chris Tanev, the Flames continue to hold and see if a first-rounder (or something they consider comparable) becomes available. Dallas is very much into this, although some teams suspect they like Hanifin, too. Others: Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver. Colorado’s been in and out, as have others.

11. Los Angeles is still waiting on testing to determine the severity of Viktor Arvidsson’s injury. Vegas is bracing for Mark Stone to be out a bit. Jack Eichel’s move to LTIR was for roster flexibility; he’s still due back in the not-too-distant future. Nic Dowd was hurt Tuesday in New Jersey; the Capitals said he’s day-to-day and won’t travel to Tampa and Florida. 

12. Sounds like Columbus has about eleventy-billion names on its initial list of managerial contenders. That’s never a bad idea. Cast a wide net and see where it takes you. As mentioned last weekend, I don’t believe it is essential to have previous GM experience. But I do think they will want someone who’s been around a little bit. 

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13. Jamie Drysdale said he was playing pool with Trevor Zegras in Nashville when he got the call about his trade to the Flyers. I love both billiards and snooker (although I haven’t played in a long time) and asked for more details. Drysdale, Zegras and Mason McTavish competed pretty hard against each other. Who’s the best? Drysdale smiled sheepishly before saying, “I am.” Then, he added with a huge smile, “I left before those two paid up.”

14. Kelly Hrudey delivered the massive jinx to Radko Gudas, pointing out right before Saturday’s game in Toronto that the veteran defender didn’t have a single minus game on the road in 2023-24. Gudas then went minus-four as the Maple Leafs won 9-2. He’s still plus-11, one of four Ducks in the black. Anaheim is taking its lumps, but you see the talent. Leo Carlsson said his biggest adjustment to the NHL is the sheer number of games. As for Zegras, there’s definitely a feeling the Ducks want to give him more time to see if he works on his game and builds bulk as they’ve asked. There are no guarantees, but you’ve got to be careful about giving up on pure talent.

15. There are 14 70-goal seasons. Six times (four of them Wayne Gretzky, once Brett Hull and Mario Lemieux) that player won the Hart Trophy. But, let’s break it down even further. Jari Kurri lost to Gretzky in 1985, and was two scores behind the Great One. Lemieux and Bernie Nicholls lost despite 85(!) and 70, respectively, in 1989, as Gretzky had 168 points (ninth-most all-time) during his first season in Los Angeles. Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne were the last to break the barrier with 76 in 1993, but Lemieux had an insane 69 goals and 160 points in 60 games. God wasn’t going to beat him for the MVP that season. In 1970-71, Phil Esposito smashed Bobby Hull’s previous goal record of 58, by 18. You’d think he’d run away with the Hart, but Bobby Orr redefined the sport with 37 goals (previous high for defencemen before he arrived was 23), 102 assists (remains the standard, previous before he arrived was 50) and 139 points (remains the standard, previous before he arrived was 59.) God wasn’t going to win that one, either.

The two unique seasons involved Hull and Mark Messier. Hull did not win the Hart despite 72 goals in 1990 and 70 in 1992, losing both times to the intimidating centre — who still looks plenty fearsome. Messier had his best season in 1989-90, with 129 points as Edmonton won its post-Gretzky Stanley Cup, while 1991-92 was his 107-point arrival in Manhattan. What all of this means is 70-goal scorers probably win the Hart unless someone else does something magnificent. There are great players making MVP cases — Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid. But if Matthews gets to 70 or especially 75, tough to see him losing. 

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16. If the Department of Player Safety is trying to establish one thing in 2023-24, it’s that retaliation matters. David Perron (one previous fine) and Morgan Rielly (no history) were punished harder than normal for cross-checks that were considered revenge and non-hockey plays. No surprise commissioner Gary Bettman did not reduce Rielly’s suspension on appeal. When he did it for Jason Spezza, he noted a major reason was Neal Pionk’s injury was not as severe as initially believed. There was no injury here, so that wasn’t a factor. One agent wondered if Bettman would punitively increase the suspension to stop all of the NHLPA’s appeals (four this season). That obviously didn’t happen.

17. I told this story on a recent pod, but, before the 2020 draft, one WHL staffer said he begged someone he knew on the Maple Leafs to take Ridly Greig. He told them Greig would be Nazem Kadri-lite, in all the good ways. He was so disappointed they didn’t take him. 

18. I’m curious to see how the NHL uses the 2026 All-Star Game on Long Island as a springboard to the Milan Olympics. Usually, there’s no All-Star during Olympic years when NHLers attend, so this provides opportunity to do something unique. Detroit and Edmonton remain on the radar. Both have beautiful new buildings they wish to show off, both declared interest. When it comes to the Red Wings, there are some projects underway around the arena, and the question becomes, “Do we wait until it’s complete?” With Edmonton, it’s jokes about February weather. But the day will come. 

19. At the last Board of Governors meeting, the NHL indicated it was thinking of something different with this year’s awards. The last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final is June 24, with the draft June 28-29. That’s not a lot of time. What’s possible here is a smaller, scaled-down event at the draft, with only a few of the major awards announced. The NBA reveals its winners during the opening rounds of the playoffs, so players get an ovation from the hometown crowd. I like the idea, we’ll see what the NHL does. 

20. Got a few notes from people who talked about the awesome experience they had at last weekend’s two outdoor games. As someone who’s been to almost 20 of them, I’ve learned it’s not for the TV audience as much as it’s about the in-person experience — although the Islanders/Rangers game was as good an outdoor game as there’s ever been. There used to be times I’d think, “Oh no, not again,” but when you get there, you’re swept up in the excitement. So, I’m glad to see Columbus get its shot and there’s got to be a way to do Florida/Tampa. There was a lot of great stuff, from the Rocky/Sopranos walk-ins, to the Mike Keenan/Mark Messier Rangers pre-game pump-up, to large numbers on the jerseys (which should be mandatory for the sake of fans and broadcasters).  

21. If there was one critique of the Rangers, it was that they did not recognize long-time trainer Jim Ramsay, who returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time last week with Montreal. Several of the current players, who were disappointed, went to him on-ice post-game, in full view of the fans. There will be chances to rectify this.

22. A couple of weeks ago, Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said he’d address his staff about the future. It hasn’t happened yet.  

23. I’m a big fan of Andrew Brewer’s Twitter videos. Brewer, a video coach in the Detroit, Toronto, Florida and New Jersey organizations, did one for me on the defensive-zone changes the Devils recently made. He just launched 200 Foot Hockey, an executive consulting platform for the sport.

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24. After Bobby McMann’s Feb. 13 hat trick against St. Louis, Twitter follower Rob Adler asked how many players with 20-plus games in the ECHL have an NHL hat trick? Thanks to that league’s statistical genius, Joe Babik, we know McMann is the 15th to do it. The full list: Bates Battaglia, Alex Burrows, Adam Cracknell, B.J. Crombeen, Iain Duncan, Vern Fiddler, Scott Gomez, Dwight King, Chad Larose, Mason Marchment, McMann, Michael Ryder, Rob Valicevic, Carter Verhaeghe and MacKenzie Weeger.

25. Monday was a really fun day to be on the air and around the office. McMann scores again. Justin Brazeau, never drafted, makes his NHL debut at 26 and scores for Boston. Mason Morelli, also undrafted, makes his NHL debut at 28 and gets two points for Vegas. Alex Petrovic plays his first NHL game in five years for Dallas. (That’s dedication.) Matt Villalta makes his first NHL start for Arizona, and actually leads Edmonton after two periods. Those are fun days. Wish there were more of them. 

26. Actor Paul D’Amato died Tuesday at age 74 — legendary in hockey circles for his portrayal of Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken in Slap Shot. That role immortalized him in another way: as inspiration for Wolverine’s look in the X-Men. John Byrne, a huge star in the comic-book world, once said, “My Wolverine is an actor whose name I don’t even know, who’s on-camera for all of five minutes in a Paul Newman hockey movie.” (I couldn’t find the original source for the interview, but saw it on a 1980s comic fan blog.) As a huge Weapon X fan, I find this very cool. And I’ll give you one guess who knew this.

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