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The Full Dubas: Penguins’ New Cap & Trade Strategy, Talking to Crosby

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Pittsburgh Penguins Kyle Dubas

CRANBERRY — Sidney Crosby is in the loop. He and Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas recently shared the UPMC Lemieux Complex, and the boss has apprised the Penguins captain of the organizational shift from chasing wins to chasing the future.

Things won’t be the same.

What comes next is not a rebuild. It’s not a tear-down, and it’s not quite a retool, either. It’s not really any of the preceding, but it’s Dubas’s attempt to keep the current roster competitive while he restocks the prospects pool with at least a few players who might see their NHL debuts occur before Crosby hangs up his skates. Ultimately, the young players will fill the roster, and Dubas

Dubas held his second press conference in four days but still hasn’t divulged anything regarding the Crosby contract talks, though it seems the relationship is strong.

“It would be foolish for me not to keep in constant contact with him and let him know what we’re thinking,” said Dubas. “As soon as we bring somebody in, we let him know. He reaches right out to the draft picks. He reached out to the guys today.”

Penguins Trades & Free Agents

The Penguins’ transactions were a constant wave of moves to parse and decipher Monday, beginning with defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, pausing with Blake Lizotte just before his 4 p.m. press conference, and ending with Emil Bemstrom shortly after his presser.

It’s clear the Penguins’ core will likely have a largely different supporting cast next season. Dubas traded Reilly Smith to the New York Rangers, and it was little more than asset management.

One year after spending a third-round pick on him, Dubas recouped a 2027 second-rounder and a 2025 fifth-round pick. The Penguins ate 25% of Smith’s salary. Clearly, Smith didn’t work out for the Penguins, scoring just nine goals last season, and once the Rangers struck out on the free agent market, they turned to Smith.

“Our major focus is on trying to recoup future assets, draft picks, prospects, (and) younger players. We had a number of conversations with teams that started at the trade deadline. We elected just to hold,” Dubas explained. “And then as this came along, we were thinking–we gave up a third to get him. This was the offer that was there, and the fifth was essentially the toll for the (salary) retention … So that was the decision — to get the two assets back to get, and we have the (cap) space, which is the asset management thing.”

None of the Penguins’ nine free-agent signings were expensive, and all but one signed for only one year.

Grzelcyk, 30, will most likely fill the Penguins’ need for a left-side defenseman in the top four unless Ryan Graves rebounds from a disastrous 2023-24 season and claims one of the roles beside Kris Letang or Erik Karlsson. The other potential role is beside rookie Jack St. Ivany.

Penguins Cap & Trade Strate

Dubas said it Friday, but not every GM faithfully executes his plan to the letter. Dubas did so Friday. He said there wouldn’t be long-term free agents, and he lived up to that by keeping most contracts to one year.

He said there wouldn’t be big money deals to maintain future flexibility, and he did just that, too. Grzelcyk was the highest paid at $2.75 million, a paltry pittance when propped against the prominent paydays on July 1.

The Penguins have 46 of 50 contracts on the books. So they have room to sign more. According to PuckPedia.com, after the Smith trade, they have a few dollars shy of $4.3 million remaining. So, they have plenty of cap room, too.

But Dubas sounded like a GM who was shifting strategies to begin selling his cap space to those who were packed against the salary cap ceiling.

“I think we’re we have two things on the go right now. One is that we have the remaining free agents that are still out there that we’re sorting through … unless someone really young shakes loose … So it would need to be somebody impactful and young, shaking loose for us to go longer term,” Dubas said. “We also want to keep our cap space open in case those opportunities come through the summer. We’re seeing already today — we have the (cap) space, and we have the approval on a budget from ownership to go to that point that we can use that space either to acquire good young players or use that space to acquire more assets.”

Youth doesn’t often hit the free agent market, and if there were any players available who met that criteria, they would have been available on Monday. What comes next is for the dust to settle and Dubas to wait for teams to shed young players blocked by veterans or squeezed out by overcrowding. He can also become popular in general manager circles by selling his cap space to the highest bidder.

Last summer, the Montreal Canadiens recouped several picks and players by helping teams dump salaries to complete trades, including the Penguins when they helped with the Erik Karlsson trade.