There is a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins contingent that isn’t happy with happiness. Like Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley, there are never enough presents, and one disagreeable move negates a spate of sharp moves. Make no mistake, even if the few people who had Tweets left to read on Saturday weren’t happy, the Penguins president of hockey operations, Kyle Dubas, surgically made the team better without adding the headline-grabbing, salary cap-killing big names.
The Penguins are better. Much, much better.
In short order, Dubas added a tough-to-play-against center Lars Eller, wrecking ball forward Noel Acciari, and hulking defenseman Ryan Graves who can also skate. He did so on affordable contracts, which will not hamstring the team’s future.
Eller and Acciari represent a significant incline over the performance of Ryan Poehling and Josh Archibald. Eller and Acciari also add to the Penguins’ identity in tangible ways with their style of play. Even though Eller isn’t a big hitter, his defensive game can frustrate opposing centers, and the Penguins’ bottom six will no longer be a free skate for opponents.
Acciari will hit everything that moves. He brings emotion and passion. Those things were sorely lacking in the previous edition of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We’ve had Acciari in the past and know what he brings. He’s going to be extremely physical every night, able to kill penalties, chip in, and score as well. But in terms of the toughness that he brings, I think it’s undisputed in the way that he plays,” said Dubas.
Is that enough toughness? Yeah, the Penguins will be as tough as they’ve been in the Mike Sullivan era. Acciairi is also fast. So, too is free agent signing Matt Nieto.
And 6-foot-5 defenseman Ryan Graves is an upgrade over the player Brian Dumoulin has become. In fact, Graves will improve the Penguins’ defense’s physicality, shot-blocking, skating, and bit on the puck movement side, too.
Graves will make just $500,000 more than Dumoulin did last season. Dubas gave the 27-year-old a six-year contract. Call that a home run.
When you lay out the blue line, it is a full step better than it was.
Marcus Pettersson-Jeff Petry
P.O Joseph-Jan Rutta
Laying out the forward lines, there is ample versatility, and Dubas will get his wish for some camp battles. It could like something like this:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust
Drew O’Connor-Lars Eller-Noel Acciari
Matt Nieto-Mikael Granlund-Alex Nylander
Sam Poulin could battle for a spot, too.
You’ll notice there isn’t a Jeff Carter in those lines. Acciari won 53% of his faceoffs last season and can kill penalties. He could easily slide to the fourth-line center role, too. Perhaps Carter finds a spot as the RW and can chip in some offense again. The players will decide their fate because there is competition, and coach Mike Sullivan can put the pieces together in different ways based on who earns it.
“Nieto is a player that in my previous position we always looked at and tried to acquire but couldn’t get it across the line, and we’re happy today to do that (today),” said Dubas. He brings great speed, is defensively responsible, is able to kill penalties, and can chip in as well. S0, it’s trying to find the right fit for the coaching staff, what they want, and what we all believe in to be competitive.”
So, tell me where it hurts.
And in goal, the Penguins will get an upgrade, too. They will get a healthy Tristan Jarry over the busted-up version that persevered through last season. The Penguins also have former Carolina top goalie prospect Alex Nedeljkovic, 27, who will push backup Casey DeSmith.
Consider that washed-out Joonas Korpisalo got $4 million annually from the Ottawa Senators over five years. Korpisalo had a nice run with the LA Kings at the end of the season, but he’s been a borderline NHL goalie in Columbus for several years. Four million was the going rate for a career .903 save percentage, and Jarry got well less than the rumored $6 million asking price when he signed a five-year deal with a $5.375 million cap hit per season.
Yet Jarry’s re-signing soaked up the headlines.
]It’s a mistake to focus on that signing as the sour move of the day because Dubas both got a starting goalie (Jarry) and a goalie tandem (DeSmith, Nedeljkovich). He managed to cover both bases. He got an unreliable sports car (that may again become reliable when fixed up) and an extended warranty.
After a nearly disastrous 2022-23, Jarry is the subject of ire, but once the fog of war cleared, the Penguins brass thought long and hard about what to do. Dubas flew to Edmonton to speak with Jarry on Wednesday. The conversation was probably not all sugar and rainbows.
Re-signing Jarry isn’t an A+ move, but it may be if we grade on the curve of available options. You might want other goalies more, but other teams also want to keep those goalies or want a premium for them.
Dubas’s last good move was backing away from the Erik Karlsson trade. Having two No. 1 defensemen remains tantalizing for NHL GMs, but two offensive defensemen and only one puck is a recipe for disaster.
Losing Jason Zucker and Ryan Poehling cost the Penguins speed, but they gained some of it back and added more production without the injury issues. And sure, Jarry’s health is a concern. That’s why Dubas signed an NHL goalie as a third goalie and wants more.
Perhaps Graves will keep forwards away from Tristan Jarry, and another Anders Lee roll-up on his legs won’t happen again.
So, Dubas added toughness, size, youth, speed, more offensive prowess, and better penalty-killing defensive-type players. And you’re mad because there were 37 presents last year, and you only got 36 this year?
The Penguins, and Dubas, get an easy A+.