Penguins’ Dubas to focus on goaltending, defence, depth as top priorities

Penguins President of hockey operations Kyle Dubas discusses his guidelines and what the next steps are for this organization in their GM search.

Kyle Dubas was named the Pittsburgh Penguins new president of hockey operations on Thursday, but it was also revealed he will serve as the team’s interim general manager until the organization fills that void on a full-time basis later this summer.

Dubas takes over the role previously held by Brian Burke. Both Burke and Pittsburgh’s former GM Ron Hextall were fired in April after the Penguins failed to qualify for the post-season for the first time since the 2005-06 season, going 6-9-1 down the stretch and missing the playoffs by one point in the standings.

“My intention is that I’ll handle (GM duties) on an interim basis here through to July and then begin to go through candidates and make the decision that’s best for the hockey department,” Dubas said at his introductory press conference. “If we do go down that path I think the type of person we’d be looking for is someone progressive that can really add an element to the organization that perhaps I don’t have as a skill set in some regard.”

The Penguins currently have more than $20 million in salary cap space and a roster in need of some major upgrades.

The 37-year-old Dubas said he has already spoken with Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan and captain Sidney Crosby to get a sense of where the organization is and what they’d need from him going forward.

Dubas described the task ahead as a two-pronged appraoch.

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Crosby, 35, finished 16th in scoring in 2022-23 with 93 points and Evgeni Malkin, 36, averaged more than a point-per-game in his first 82-game campaign since 2008-09. Between those two future Hall of Famers, plus leading goal scorer Jake Guentzel who’s entering the final year of his contract and a defence corps led by veteran Kris Letang, Pittsburgh’s roster still has a solid foundation in the short term – at least on paper.

Dubas was optimistic when asked whether or not Pittsburgh’s “championship window” was currently still open.

“I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here, and the way I view it is if people want to bet against Mike Sullivan, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and others, they can go ahead and do so but I’m going to be on them and go with them here,” Dubas said. “I do think it’s a group capable of contending to win a championship.

“I do think we need to build out the depth of the group and supplement the greatness that those people bring each day. I think there are some of those pieces that are already here, but in the next several weeks we’ll get to work on more of that. At the same time, really having a huge amount of focus on the long term as well.”

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An obvious top off-season priority for Dubas and the Pens is figuring out the goaltending situation.

Tristan Jarry was Pittsburgh’s top goalie this past season but his 24-13-7 record, .909 save percentage and 2.90 goals-against average were all substantially worse than the numbers he posted the year prior when he finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting.

The 28-year-old netminder is a pending unrestricted free agent whose annual cap hit the past three season has been $3.5 million.

Dubas said he hopes to meet with Jarry soon and will rely on input from Sullivan and Pittsburgh’s goalie coach Andy Chiodo before doing “a thorough evaluation of Tristan, where he stands in the marketplace, get a real scope of who’s going to be available whether that’s in free agency or trade, and then if Tristan is at the top of that mix or in that mix because he’s familiar and you know him it’ll be to try to establish a concept that can get done with he and his agent. … That’s the method that we’ll take here in next 48-72 hours.”

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Casey DeSmith is 31 with one year remaining on his current deal, which has a $1.8-million cap hit. He’s the only other Penguins goalie under contract at the NHL level.

One potential obstacle Dubas will be faced with when filling out the remainder of the roster will be navigating a number of no-movement clauses among skaters.

“Those are obviously very real situations,” Dubas acknowledged. “Everyone knows that they exist. To me, the effect, whether it’s surrounding the no-movement clauses or core of the team, is what we can add in terms of depth pieces, what we can add in terms of younger pieces whether it’s by trade or free agent acquisitions. That’ll be the real key that we can set our focus on and then in the next several weeks here we’ll begin to get a temperature on what the value is of all of the players in the market and try to move this roster back to a point where (it can contend for a division title).”

Crosby, Malkin and Letang each have full no-movement clauses. Forwards Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter, plus defenceman Jeff Petry also have NMCs, while Guentzel, Rickard Rakell and Marcus Pettersson each have modified no-trade clauses.

The 2023 NHL Draft takes place from June 28-29 before free agency officially opens on July 1.

Pittsburgh currently has six picks to use at the 2023 draft: the 14th overall pick, New Jersey’s third-round selection, their own fifth- and sixth-round selections plus two seventh-rounders that originally belonged to Florida and Toronto. The previous regime traded the team’s second-round pick to Nashville in March for Mikael Granlund, and their fourth-round pick was traded away back in 2021.

Dubas found his new job less than two weeks after being fired as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dubas said Thursday that he heard from the Penguins the day after his departure.

The Maple Leafs happened to introduce their new GM, Brad Treliving, earlier in the day on Thursday. Toronto’s team president Brendan Shanahan said at that press conference he had been in contact with Sam Kennedy, the CEO of Fenway Sports Group which owns the Penguins, and had spoken to him about Dubas “several times over the last week.” Shanahan explained that he fully endorsed Dubas, thought he’d be great for the Pittsburgh organization and that he’s happy for him.

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