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Penguins Blog: Rivals Make Big Moves, More Trouble for Pens

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pittsburgh penguins, sidney crosby, alex ovechkin, washington capitals, nhl trade talk

The buzz is growing around the several teams that finished behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose playoff aspirations now seem like a bit of a long shot after a weak start to the offseason and free agency.

Another problem facing the Penguins is that even if they are slightly improved, they might be worse off after bold offseasons by teams with whom they are in direct competition not only in the Metro Division but for an Eastern Conference wild card.

In 2023-24, the Penguins didn’t make the playoffs for the second consecutive year but watched their rivals, the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, stave off the tumbling tumult of advancing age and middling irrelevance for postseason appearances. The “jumpstart,” as Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas termed his acquisition of defenseman Erik Karlsson, admittedly didn’t do enough.

The Penguins are done trying to squeak into the playoffs, at least at the managerial level. Coach Mike Sullivan and the players will certainly strive for a spot on Lord Stanley’s dance floor, but Dubas has pivoted his pursuit to the future. At last week’s 2024 NHL Draft, he blew right past a question from Pittsburgh Hockey Now about his confidence the team could improve for 2024-25.

His focus is on the future, not the coming season.

“The coaches and the players have to look at it day to day. They’re trying to win every day. I have to look at it with a much broader lens — if Pittsburgh is to be a team that just squeaks in, I understand that would be nice to be in (the playoffs) — but we want to be a contender,” Dubas said at the draft. “And so we have to put the work in and improve the assets that are going to allow us to get there and do that, and that’s going to be our focus.”

The words are a wee bit nebulous, but the intent and direction are not. The word missing from Dubas’s quote is future, as in “future assets.” The team and players can try to win now, but Dubas has a long-range plan that precluded trades and signings now that would hinder the future.

No long-term deals. No trading draft picks for help.

However, while Dubas nibbled at the start of free agency on July 1 with spare parts, the teams chasing the Penguins and their direct rivals took big swings. The Ottawa Senators acquired former Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Linus Ullmark. Washington not only pulled off the shocking salary swap of fading goalie Darcy Kuemper for embattled but talented center Pierre-Luc Dubois but upgraded in goal by acquiring Logan Thompson from Vegas, former 30-goal scorer Andrew Mangiapane from Calgary for a second-rounder, and the coup de gras, acquiring widely sought defenseman Jakob Chychrun from Ottawa.

Washington even bolstered its fourth line by signing Brandon Duhaime and Taylor Raddysh.

In the span of a little more than a week, Washington GM Brian McClellan retooled the roster, revamping a team that was inferior to the Penguins. Washington missed the playoffs in 2022-23 and made the big dance only because of the Penguins’ malaise last season.

Like the Penguins, the Capitals haven’t won a playoff series since 2018 and a playoff game since 2022. Despite still being built around 38-year-old Alex Ovechkin, Washington is probably better. They’ve integrated draft picks such as Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre into their top nine, too.

They should be considered a favorite for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Ottawa will benefit from a first-rate goalie in net, the defensively reliable Nick Jensen on the blue line, and third-line scorers David Perron and Michael Amadio.

The Detroit Red Wings are significantly improved not only with an additional year of maturity and growth with their burgeoning young stars Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. GM Steve Yzerman not only kept Patrick Kane, who improved deeper into the season following his hip surgery, but signed solid middle-six scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, too.

Detroit’s weakness remains in goal where Yzerman’s big acquisition was the leaky Cam Talbot.

The Penguins? Matt Grzelcyk, Blake Lizotte, and Anthony Beauvillier were the notable adds on Day 1. Fourth liner Blake Lizotte is the other. Kevin Hayes will be a Penguins forward next season after Dubas took on Hayes’s contract to get the St. Louis Blues second-round pick.

PHN can confirm the Penguins were interested in Tarasenko but lost that bidding war.

The New Jersey Devils, who had a breakout 2022-23 season, also filled their largest need when president of hockey operations/GM Tom Fitzgerald waited out the competition and landed goalie Jacob Markstrom from the Calgary Flames.

New Jersey also added depth scoring with Stefan Noesen, who had 14 goals last season with the Carolina Hurricanes, and top-four defenseman Brett Pesce, also from Carolina. For good measure, New Jersey signed stay-home defenseman Brenden Dillon and middle-six winger Tomas Tatar.

Injuries to center Jack Hughes and a lack of goaltending submarined New Jersey last season, and the team finished behind the Penguins. However, getting healthy, Markstrom and the shrewd signings should vault New Jersey past the Penguins, too.

Even the Philadelphia Flyers got some good fortune this offseason when the second most talented player in the 2023 draft, the Flyers’ Matvei Michkov, left Russia two years early to join the team.

Until a late-season collapse, the Flyers lead the Penguins in the standings.

It’s becoming a very real possibility, as the Penguins currently stand, they finish seventh in the Metro Division. Their rivals have gotten stronger, and in a few cases, significantly so. Their playoff rivals in Detroit and Ottawa were able to get stronger, as well.

Detroit also has about $20 million in salary cap space remaining. The world is their oyster.

Of course, the one thing none of the above have is Sidney Crosby. The Penguins have been one of the worst teams in the league, with a lead two years running, and last season, their power play was the stuff of epic failure. If they can improve on both of those shortcomings, they will be competitive.

But after a summer of strong moves by their rivals, one begins to wonder if even holding a few more leads and scoring a few more power play goals will matter enough to improve their position.

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Aaron Hermann
Aaron Hermann
10 days ago

Is it just me or is Washington’s GM actually pulling off the “on-the-fly” retool that Dubas said he oringally wanted to do and has somehow morphed into a slow rebuild – even if he refuses to acknowledge it?

Eli
Eli
10 days ago
Reply to  Aaron Hermann

Yep, that was my thought, too.

Dean
Dean
10 days ago
Reply to  Aaron Hermann

Or he has just dug a hole that will take years to climb out. The move for Dubois has more of a chance to be a huge mistake than it does a success

Deppert
Deppert
10 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Dean, that’s the fascinating thing; their gambles could very well go bust. Aside from getting to the playoffs, they have a dual goal of helping Ovechkin break Gretzky’s record. Even if it turns out badly, as soon as that goal is met and Ovechkin retires, they can basically blow the whole thing up and retool again.

tgh
tgh
10 days ago
Reply to  Aaron Hermann

We’ll have to wait and see how they perform this season to see if he’s “pulling it off”. Time will tell.

Jim Kulha
Jim Kulha
10 days ago

The time has come to pay the Piper for the Cups. The core here got their wish to stay together so now we shall see how that works out.

Arthur Frampton
Arthur Frampton
10 days ago

If Talbot is “leaky”, then Jarry is the Titanic. Talbot has career numbers of .913 save percentage, 2.63 GAA; Jarry’s numbers are .912 SP and 2.70 GAA. Let’s not even check playoff stats. Dubas screwed up again. Should’ve traded Jarry and signed Talbot.

Last edited 10 days ago by Arthur Frampton
Eri
Eri
10 days ago

Would be nice to see a bold move or two from the PIT GM to coincide with the ‘Bold Penguin’ helmet decal, which still may be on the horizon. I like the idea of pursuing Laine, even given the inherent risk, as long as CBJ takes equal money back, in all likelihood would be Graves and Rakell. The lose of Rakell would sting, but the Pens get out of the longer term contracts and CBJ does right by Laine. CBJ would also have a legit 20 goal scorer in Rakell and decent 3rd pairing, albeit overpriced d-man in Graves. That… Read more »

qdawg8266
qdawg8266
10 days ago
Reply to  Eri

Ya surely someone will give us good players for our unwanted overpriced vets. Read ur posts before u post and ask urself if it really makes sense

Eri
Eri
10 days ago
Reply to  qdawg8266

Perhaps I’ll use u, ur and urself, because I only matriculated to Grade 8 and lack the ability to think. You do know Laine is on the Player’s Assistance program and any club which takes him will be executing a high risk, potentially high reward trade with no guarantee he’ll be the player he was in WPG. CBJ is also figuring on RS or sending draft picks for a club to take a flyer on Laine. They don’t have to do either in this scenario. You are the Pens fan that undersells individual player’s value – I bet you thought… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Eri
DMR
DMR
10 days ago

If the Pens’ power play would have even been just average last season, they would have made the playoffs. I’m hoping the addition of Quinn as a coach can improve that putrid power play and find a way to use Karlsson way more effectively.

Steve
Steve
10 days ago
Reply to  DMR

Although we don’t really know what would have happened, what you’re saying is many of the players on the PP just weren’t good enough. I agree. Malkin,Karlsson, and Letang eat up far too much cap space than they are worth. Which causes us not to be able to get a decent bottom 6 and pressure other teams that way. So, it’s a2 part problem. Both bad for Pitt

Gregor Squeri
Gregor Squeri
10 days ago

Is there a list of top players in the 2025 draft and are any elite?

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
10 days ago
Reply to  Gregor Squeri

James Hagens is ranked #1. The scouting notes say he’s similar to a jack Hughes or Logan Cooley skill wise

PensFanSince1970
PensFanSince1970
10 days ago

Dubas is way overrated as a GM….Look no further than his tenure in Toronto.
His Leafs never got past the 1st round as GM.
Pens missed the Playoffs in his 1st year as GM.

Leafs 5 Year Playoff history
2022
Lost First Round
2021
Lost First Round
2020
Lost Qualifying Round
2019
Lost First Round
2018
Lost First Round

JoshK
JoshK
10 days ago

All the belly-aching. Sign a decent top 6 winger (Laine), and roster suddenly looks pretty strong and balanced. Power play almost has to be better. Defense will be better with year two of Karlsson and better play/players on left side. Bottom 6 is better without R. Smith and Carter, and addition of new players for whom it is reasonable to expect at least a moderate reversion to historical performance. And Sid is not leaving. That would be contrary to everything he has been about. He is more Lemieux/Yzerman, less Gretzky, Jagr, Hossa. I know it sells, but people need to… Read more »

Del Scott
Del Scott
10 days ago
Reply to  JoshK

Laine is not a FA. Plus his cap hit is $8.7M

Stanley Kupp
Stanley Kupp
10 days ago

I have no problem with the Penguins being a bottom five team for the next two years. That will allow them to stockpile top and talent.

JoshK
JoshK
10 days ago

I still think that signing Ned for a couple of years indicates that Jarry could well be traded this summer. Sending Jarry’s salary out, combined with remaining cap space, could land a borderline elite top-6 winger. Let Ned try to hold net, bring up Blomqvist and let him try to win it. Look around the league, goalie may be the place to roll the dice. If they want to try to win while rebuilding on the fly.

howard
howard
10 days ago

Everyone seems to forget we need a new coach. This team has been tuning him out for a couple years. Stubborn, inflexible and a one dimensional coach. Nothing will change until he is gone.

Greg
Greg
9 days ago

If only he had been intelligent enough to see this before he made the trade for a guy everyone else and their dog knew wasn’t going to come anywhere close to 100 points again. His “core 4” team building model is a bust. He came in at the best possible time in Toronto–a team on the way up after a rebuild–and wasn’t able to do squat. He got to Pittsburgh and thought he could core 4 it there too, but that team was going, and is going the opposite way. Down. As much as Crosby may want to play for… Read more »

Woytowich
Woytowich
9 days ago
Reply to  Greg

You are so right!

Woytowich
Woytowich
9 days ago

If the Penguins are headed for a top 5 pick next year should we start talking
about unloading the Karlsson contract. Is it moveable? Can we get our draft picks back?

If not, what does this say about Kyle Dubas’ performance thus far. I actually don’t mind
the Lizotte and Beauvillier signings. They have upside with little risk. I am not craxy about the Hayes contract but we will see.