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Kingerski: 3 Early Offseason Things I’d Do as Penguins GM



Pittsburgh Penguins, Kyle Dubas, NHL free agency

The waiting is the hardest part. The first significant deal of the offseason went down this week when the Nashville Predators granted defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s request and traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a swap of draft picks. Despite the movement, the NHL trade chatter has not substantially picked up.

The Pittsburgh Penguins began their offseason transactions by signing a trio of players this week, including Czech defenseman Filip Kral, who spent three years in the Toronto organization. Yet the NHL free-agent frenzy is still more than a month away.

However, before July 1 hits and Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas gets to toss contracts worth millions at unrestricted free agents, there are a few things Dubas can do to continue reshaping the Penguins roster. After all, missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons shouldn’t necessarily earn many benefits of the doubt, nor should it create a situation in which many feel comfortable with their station.

A little bit of “uncomfortable” might be the flavoring salt that helps cure a team known for far too many bland performances.

How best to achieve that mental shakeup will define the Penguins off-season. Should Dubas not achieve at least a mental makeover, there’s no reason to believe he’ll achieve a results makeover, either.

As an unpaid and unwanted consultant to the Penguins’ offseason, there are several things I’d do as the GM, but since trades take two dance partners, we’ll skip the Penguins’ trade offers. We’ll leave that to the career-mode game players.

Early Offseason Penguins Actions

1. The Harsh Conversation

The truth is simple. The team was entirely dependent upon the core three, and while many on the inside would disagree, it seemed the plethora of newbies took longer to adjust or fit in last season.

Dubas brought in leaders like Noel Acciari, Lars Eller, and even Erik Karlsson would qualify. However, it seemed they were deferential to the core three of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin.

As Karlsson quipped in October, “I could be here five years and wouldn’t have the chemistry they have.”

It’s time for “the talk” with the Penguins core that it isn’t going to be their team anymore. Crosby should and must be the standard bearer ushering in the next generation. He’s far better suited for that role than his former landlord and team owner Mario Lemieux was for Generation X, or Generation Next, or whatever they called the abysmal three years from 2002-2005 of minor league players masquerading as prospects while the Penguins overturned couch cushions looking for spare change to remain in operation.

However, beyond the coming season, Dubas cannot rely on Crosby to score 90 points. Nor should Letang be counted on as the No. 1 defenseman, playing all situations and 25 minutes per night. Malkin’s career likely has two years remaining, and his role should be amended accordingly.

The sports betting in Canada didn’t think much of the Penguins this season, and their love is dropping. Every little shakeup is needed.

The transition must begin, and that should be communicated. Perhaps others should soon wear the A to further the symbolic changes that must occur to both freshen the atmosphere and reshape the team.

All debts have been paid; neither side owes the other. Fitting into proper roles is far more important than the mythical achievement of playing an entire career in one city.

2. Sign Sidney Crosby

Simple. He has more power in the situation than does the team unless Dubas is willing to commit to a full rebuild. Otherwise, Crosby is both the necessary foundational piece in the locker room and the public. If he is still willing to stay and shepherd the organization through what comes next–and that’s what we were told by sources in early March–No. 87 should be given the contract he thinks is fair.

If it’s $10.87 million for a few years, that’s an easy yes.

3. Reilly Smith–Free Up Cap Space

Smith just didn’t seem to work with the Penguins. There’s nothing personal. Quite frankly, I found him refreshing in the same authentic manner as Matt Murray. I much prefer it when players are honest, even if it comes off as disinterested in the questions.

However, Smith’s performance didn’t live up to his $5 million salary. So, this armchair GM would work hard to make a trade.

There are three options: letting Smith play out the final year of his contract, trading him, or buying him out. A buyout and eating half his salary in a trade would cost about the same next season. If Dubas were to exercise a buyout in the window following the Stanley Cup presentation, the Penguins would pay only about $2.3 million next year but $1.3 million the following year.

A trade with a 50% retention would cost them a one-time hit of $2.5 million. If there’s a market, free up the capital. If there’s not … free up the capital.

Other Issues

Many will insert Tristan Jarry and Ryan Graves onto the to-do list, but the reality is that it’s highly unlikely any GM could do much with Graves. He must play himself back into the lineup before anything else can happen. Graves has five years remaining on his contract, so a trade is almost impossible.

Jarry is in a unique situation. He faceplanted in March, but he was having a stellar season until everything went wrong. There’s also a dearth of talent available on the goaltending market. Even if Jarry is a gamble, it’s a good gamble for at least one more year. We’d sit tight with Jarry but be open to a lot of potential options after July 1.