Kyle Dubas has had a busy past few weeks while serving in his dual role as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations and interim general manager.
He’s made a trade, overseen a draft, tried to re-sign some players, hired a salary-cap specialist and navigated the early days of free agency.
And now that all of that, to say nothing of the Penguins’ three-day development camp, is behind him, Dubas can move on to the next thing on his to-do list.
“With the rest of it, I … kind of pushed it to July 5,” he said recently. “We’ll get to focus on building out the rest of our hockey operations department and our people on the ground.”
Dubas hasn’t detailed how he plans to structure the front office, precisely which positions will be created and how many people will be hired to fill them.
While it’s not out of the question that he would retain the GM title, holding down two full-time positions as demanding as the ones he has now would be a lot for any individual, even one as energetic as Dubas appears to be.
Even if he names a GM, however, it seeks likely that that person should expect to share at least some of the authority that traditionally belongs to a GM with Dubas, who is coming off a five-year stint as GM in Toronto.
When he was hired last month, Dubas noted that the field of GM candidates would expand at the end of June because contracts would be expiring. What’s more, because the draft and the critical stages of free agency are past, teams figure to be more agreeable to allowing employees to interview elsewhere for positions that would be a promotion over their current one.
*** If a 6-foot-5, 220-pound guy with the surname of Graves — in this case, recently signed Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves — isn’t nicknamed “Undertaker,” something is terribly amiss in his locker room. Alas, the early betting favorites are “Gravy” and “Graver.”
*** Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, has sent dozens of players to the NHL, and a number of them — including the likes of Ron Francis, Chris Thorburn, Gene Ubriaco, Rico Fata, Norm Schmidt, Ted Nolan and Jim Wiley — have ended up with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They also have had at least two executives with roots in that town: Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito, who was their general manager for about a year and a half in the late 1980s, and Dubas.
Considering all of that, it probably isn’t a surprise that there has been an overlap in some of those guys’ careers, including one that probably isn’t widely known: Francis said that Dubas’ grandfather was one of his coaches when he played youth hockey.
*** Will Butcher, the free-agent defenseman the Pittsburgh Penguins signed earlier this week, never has lived up to the enormous potential he showed while winning the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey in 2017.
Because he was a free agent, Butcher was the subject of a ferocious bidding war before agreeing to a contract with New Jersey. He was named to the NHL’s all-rookie team in 2017-18, but never has come close to matching the 38 points he put up in his first season, and spent all of 2022-23 in the American Hockey League.
That he accepted a two-way contract reflects how his stock has dropped over the years, even though he won’t be 26 until Oct. 7, and it’s not hard to understand why he has been reduced to serving as organizational depth. For while he has solid puck skills, Butcher is smallish (5-10, 190 pounds) and struggles in the defensive zone.
Nonetheless, adding Butcher on a contract that won’t affect the salary cap unless he plays well enough to be in the NHL was a no-risk move for Dubas. Especially if Dubas decides to trade a left-handed defensemen, since the four atop the Penguins’ depth chart — Marcus Pettersson, P.O Joseph, Ty Smith and Graves — are not waivers-exempt.