CRANBERRY — The clock is ticking, and the June 30 deadline is approaching. Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations and interim GM Kyle Dubas has been on the job for only a few weeks, but he has a stack of decisions coming due, including the Pittsburgh future of forward Mikael Granlund.
Outside speculation has swirled around the future of the 31-year-old Finn, whom the Penguins acquired in an expensive but thus far unproductive deal a the 2023 NHL trade deadline.
Granlund was the Penguins’ primary get at the trade deadline, as the team gave up a second-round pick. After a hot streak at the end of his tenure with the Nashville Predators, the smooth playmaker had 41 points in 79 games (10-31-41) but never clicked in the Penguins lineup, tallying just five points (1-4-5) in 21 games. He was generally a non-factor.
“I’m not a big buyout fan. We did it in Toronto once, and the player was under 26, and it gave us a cap benefit. It added to our cap by $600,000 or so … I think there are more creative ways and better ways, especially in this environment, where you have contracts you view as problematic, you’re not getting good value, you can move them on,” said Dubas who smiled, obviously knowing the question would be asked.
In a statistical feat that could have been a small sample size or a testament to the poor fit, Penguins center Jeff Carter, who struggled through most of last season, had fewer scoring chances playing with Granlund than without.
The rub is Granlund carried a $5 million cap hit for the next two seasons. The buyout window began 48 hours after the Stanley Cup was awarded and runs through June 30, giving Dubas less than a week to make the final decision, but it seems the ship has sailed. If the words don’t close the door, the tone in which they were spoken certainly does.
“One thing I don’t want to do — you see some of the buyouts, whether they go two or four, or eight years down the road. We had that situation in Toronto on a retention trade — the Phil Kessel trade — you’re looking at that seven years down the road, you still have the space in a tight salary cap world. So I think with regards to buyouts, I’ve always believed that we try to find a more creative solution, and it’s a last resort. And I don’t feel we’re at that point right now.”
Granlund shuffled between the third and fourth line, center, and LW in his 21 games, primarily settling on the third-line LW. However, Dubas did indicate that the Penguins could be active on the NHL trade market, looking to fill needs.
Again, Dubas closed a door that the Penguins would part with prospects or picks to move veterans such as Granlund.
“I don’t believe, unless we’re adding a very impactful younger player, that we’re going to part with our younger assets, meaning Owen Pickerings of the world, are our first-round picks,” said Dubas. “As we move ahead, we have to build up the system.”
Dubas delivered a 20-minute press conference Friday in anticipation of the NHL Draft next Wednesday and Thursday (June 28, 29), followed by the NHL free agent frenzy on Saturday, July 1.
And as a side note, Dubas also credited Pittsburgh for feeling much more like his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.