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Grading Kyle Dubas, Penguins Offseason; Free Agency & Draft Fallout

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kyle Dubas. Penguins trade and free agency talk

There is the chance that Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas earns extra credit after the final grade is delivered, but the gale force winds of the NHL offseason have slowed to a mild breeze. With most of the impact players signed and the trade possibilities drying up, there are unlikely to be more team-changing trades or signings.

There are a couple of possibilities, such as Patrik Laine, still floating about on the NHL trade block and a few free agents still knocking on doors, but the likelihood is the 2024-25 Penguins are as you see them now.

So, now it is time to deliver the grades and report card for Dubas and the Penguins’ offseason.

Penguins Offseason Grade: C

It’s neither been a bad offseason nor a particularly encouraging one. This season will be the first plank on the bridge from here to there, but the changes to the NHL club have been tertiary. The additions by subtraction have been solid, but the free-agent additions were redundant and underwhelming.

The moves could easily become poor asset management.

Signing Matt Grzelcyk was a good move, but a one-year contract doesn’t instill much confidence. Re-signing Alex Nedeljkovic is also a solid play, but it won’t dramatically affect the team’s results.

Dubas also made some debatable decisions, such as acquiring Kevin Hayes and a second-round pick but also signing Blake Lizotte after the trade. With Lars Eller and Noel Acciari already on the roster, one of the moves was redundant.

Dubas wanted to get younger and clear space for some young players but sacrificed 25-year-old defenseman P.O Joseph, who excelled in the final 20 games when placed with Kris Letang on the top pairing.

Since Dubas asserted that he sees Hayes as a center, that probably means Eller is on the trade block; Noel Acciari will move to the wing, but important lineup spaces for young players such as Vasily Ponomarev, Sam Poulin and maybe Brayden Yager are blocked.

Dubas has plenty of time to trim the hedges, but are other teams interested? There was a little bit of scuttlebutt at the Draft involving Eller and the Buffalo Sabres, but they acquired Ryan McLeod from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for supremely talented forward Matthew Savoie.

That probably ended Buffalo’s pursuit.

Signing Anthony Beauvillier could mean that youngster Valtteri Puustinen is out of the lineup, or one of them must flip to the left wing. However, neither of them should be counted upon for the necessary sea change to provide depth scoring. There were plenty of depth scorers on the July 1 free agent market, but Dubas snagged only Beauvillier, who has bounced between four teams in the last two seasons without any success.

Attempts to sign free agent Vladimir Tarasenko were unsuccessful, and the Hayes trade involved accepting a boatload of salary over two years in exchange for merely a second-round pick.

Here’s the rub: If not for the Hayes trade, Dubas would have been able to afford more or higher-quality secondary scoring, and those assets would have been tradeable for the same second-round pick (or more) at the NHL trade deadline or next summer. In the probability that Hayes is not a better player than he was in his final year in Philadelphia and last season in St. Louis, this trade will have unseen but negative impacts.

The subtractions were a net positive. Trading Reilly Smith and most of his $5 million salary for a 2027 second-round pick cleared salary and lineup space. It also moved along a player who, for most of last season, seemed to be a square peg.

Terminating Todd Reirden can only help the Penguins power play. Hiring David Quinn, who has a tight relationship with coach Mike Sullivan, to replace Reirden also gives Sullivan an honest sounding board and one not afraid to push back much harder than others could.

Dubas not so gingerly admitted the Quinn factor when he spoke on July 1.

Finally, the 2024 NHL draft is difficult to gauge, if not impossible to grade. The Penguins passed on several exciting offensive talents, including Teddy Stiga of the US program, John Mustard of the USHL, and Ryder Ritchie of the WHL, to select right-handed defenseman Harrison Brunicke with the 44th pick and Tanner Howe at No. 46.

Howe was an interesting pick who brings a gritty dimension that the current lineup needs more of. He could be in the NHL within two years. Brunicke will not, and there were players with first-round grades still on the board at the start of the third round.

Brunicke isn’t a bad pick, but he’s less exciting and more of an all-around defenseman. He had just 21 points in 49 games last season in the WHL. He’s 6-foot-3 and just under 200 pounds, but it will be two more years before he can turn pro. Also, defensemen are notoriously difficult to develop. See also P.O Joseph, Calen Addison, and Ty Smith.

Get this: the last time the Penguins drafted a defenseman who became an NHL regular for the club was 2012 when they snagged Olli Maatta at No. 22 overall. They whiffed on defenseman Derrick Pouliot with the eighth overall selection. That day was so long ago that Ray Shero was the Penguins’ GM; it was first-term Obama, the beginning of Adele and the We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together era of Taylor Swift.

And I didn’t need shampoo to hide the gray. In other words, it isn’t easy to develop defensemen, even first-rounders.

As of July 9, the Penguins are not a better team than they were on April 17. As awkward as it might seem, signing Beauvillier and eating $1.25 million of Smith’s salary means the Penguins’ net savings is only $2.5 million, and there’s real question if Beauvillier can contribute.

Hayes is not a better third-center than Eller. And if Ryan Graves cannot squeeze himself back into the Penguins lineup, Ryan Shea is the only real option to replace him.

If they remain healthy, the Penguins will be competitive, but unlike direct rivals such as the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals, they didn’t improve via trade or free agency. Dubas’s biggest move may have been setting up the organization for real changes next summer, but that doesn’t help right now.

In fact, the C might be generous.

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pitt87
pitt87
4 days ago

Hi Dan,

I disagree with your conclusion that based on the Pens’ signings, “important lineup spaces for young players such as Vasily Ponomarev, Sam Poulin and maybe Brayden Yager are blocked.”

If those players can’t beat out the likes of Beauvillier, Lizzotte, Acciari, Hayes, Puljujarvi, etc., then that says way more about the quality of those prospects.

At the end of the day, you can’t just hand young prospects a roster spot. You need open competition (or at least some semblance of competition- which is what these signings are at best).

Rich81
Rich81
4 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Agree Dan, feels like the prospects have to go above and beyond to actually get a spot. If they are equal with potential, they will get sent down/back until there is an injury, or 30-40 games in to it for a player just crapping the bed. Which is another way to mismanage the situation. Getting guys off the scrap heap should come with a much shorter leash when every game counts.

Doug Ukish
Doug Ukish
4 days ago
Reply to  Rich81

So true. 2 years ago, Chicago gave the kids a chance and knocked Pens out of the SC playoff contention. BUT, they have been stockpiling youth for a few years. Seems like GMKD is heading that way.
Return on Jake trade is expected to compete for a roster spot. Tough to try to win now, hit the switch, contend now while we have Sid & core, but still stock pile youth. Don’t envy HCMS path to win now. Most people would play NHL experience vs. untested.

Ujn Hunter
Ujn Hunter
3 days ago
Reply to  Rich81

Why? If they are equal or better, they are also cheaper!

ed nelson
ed nelson
4 days ago

Not sure how many of the young players are going to be ready to start the season here. Those one year contracts will help to raise their trade deadline value assuming they are not in a playoff position. A more optimistic outcome would be that some prospects have taken jobs due to their play in the AHL. You are right about the grade being better the following season. They will also have reclaimed 2.8 million in dead cap space.

Dean
Dean
4 days ago

If you listen to Spezaza and Dubas, they want to play the young prospects. They have a history of doing exactly that. Sullivan still concerns me, but that is another subject. Many players that Dubas brought in have a great chance of not starting and will be easy to send down to the AHL and clear waivers. That is why he signed them. They are low-risk. At the beginning of the season, I would not be surprised that Poulin, Gruden, and Ponomarev will all be in the lineup. If they do this and get others like Kolvunen, Broz, and Yager… Read more »

Jon Stowitzky
Jon Stowitzky
4 days ago

Keep collecting draft picks and assets moving forward. This team isn’t going anywhere regardless of what vets they would bring in, that was proven last season. Everyone rained in their pants with the moves Dubas made last summer, now they complain about the moves. He added EK, Graves and Smith and each one probably had their worst seasons as NHLers. That’s more than a coincidence. The problem is the coaching and or the holy trinity that this fan base just can’t do without.

Steve
Steve
4 days ago
Reply to  Jon Stowitzky

It’s the latter. (Of course Crosby is exempt tho) But, Crosby is exempt in playing only, as I believe, he was a big reason they committed so much to Geno and Letang. I don’t get Crosby here. Imagine if after the Islander series, the team decided to shake things up? At that time both Geno and Letang would have easily netted a first round pick and a decent player as well. Maybe more for Malkin. That was 5 years ago. I know rebuilds and re-tools don’t often work. But, where are we now anyway? And let’s face it, being mediocre… Read more »

Mel Reichenbaugh
Mel Reichenbaugh
3 days ago
Reply to  Jon Stowitzky

Sully is and has been the problem. It is all about stats for the big 3, playing over the hill vets and not giving young players a real chance. The list of players that have had success after leaving here is very long-Granlund, Nylander, Sprong, Lafferty, McCann, F. Gaudreau, Bjugstad, Noesen, etc., and those are just the forwards!!!

Web1350
Web1350
3 days ago

Bingo! How long can management and ownership put up with Sullivan and his stubbornness? Hopefully, not much longer. He should’ve been gone 2 years ago.

KGUN
KGUN
4 days ago

Performance and injuries will dictate that Jarry will eventually be in demand this season, and we all know how well he plays up to the all-star break.

Doug Ukish
Doug Ukish
4 days ago

I’d take Eller over Hayes, any day, wing or center. He was one of Dubas’s better signings last year.

Woytowich
Woytowich
4 days ago

If your C grade is true and the Penguins are heading for a lottery pick than Dubas’ siging of Karlsson et. al looks even worse. We have to hope last years’ signings improve and one or two of this years’ signings come through or Dubas is headed for an F.

mark fields
mark fields
4 days ago

This was well written and something that has never made sense with Dubas (I live in Toronto and saw the moves he made here)…He says one thing: “want to compete, get younger”…and then his actions look not that way “get older, and weaker as a team”….As bad as Smith was in terms of not living up to expectations, Smith is better than Hayes, Eller is better than Hayes. Beaulivier is tossed around because he isn’t that good..Lizotte was not signed because he isn’t that good….I have no idea what is going on with Dubas and his path forward (accumulate picks… Read more »

Don
Don
4 days ago

Just curious in what hockey universe is a defensemen who scored 2 goals last season, averages less than 1/2 a hit a game, and is a relative munchkin compared to most D-man not named Makar or Fox a good deal?
Seriously, he weighs and plays at about 170lbs, can’t wait to see him clear the net front presence.

Joe
Joe
4 days ago

Fire the hole front office

Mel Reichenbaugh
Mel Reichenbaugh
3 days ago

Sully still running the show, will NOT play young players, now lost POJ, Ludvig is blocked by Grzelyck(5-9,174 and knock on POJ was he was weak in front and corners) and Aho and Poulin blocked by Hayes, Beauvillier, Lizottte, Nieto, etc. Getting younger??? As for grading Dubas:
Karlsson-negative
Graves-negative
Smith trade for-negative
Nieto-negative
Eller-positive
Acciari-neutral-(2 million for a 4th line center is way too much)
Signing Shea and Ludvig las year-positive
Signing Hinostroza and Johannsson-negative
Trading Guentzel-positive
Smith trade this year-positive
Grzelyck-negative
Hayes-negative
Aho-neutral
Beauvillier-neutral
Lizotte-neutral
So not too impressive!!!

Woytowich
Woytowich
3 days ago

Agree!!!

Ujn Hunter
Ujn Hunter
3 days ago

First… no one is “blocking” the “youngsters”, if they are better players than we have… they make the team regardless. Second, did you forget about Aho? Why does Shea jump in front? Nothing was “exciting” about FA this year for us, and hopefully a Laine trade or something is still in the works to bring in some scoring, but I’ll give him a B.