Kingerski: Buh-Bye Leafs, Dubas Should be Next Penguins GM. Here’s Why
It took about 30 seconds for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ elimination to affect the Pittsburgh Penguins’ news coverage. Despite no direct horse in the race as the Maple Leafs lost to the Florida Panthers, rumors have swirled, and insiders have chattered, including to PHN, that Toronto GM Kyle Dubas is a person of interest in the Penguins’ GM search.
His contract expires this summer, and Toronto has not achieved the success the long-suffering fanbase (and media) demands. Perhaps that’s one reason they’re long-suffering, but that’s a topic for Toronto to discuss. Toronto finally broke its 18-year streak of first-round playoff exits, but narrowly avoided getting swept by the Florida Panthers in Round Two, instead losing in five.
And Dubas is a free agent.
But he shouldn’t be for long.
The NHL rumor mill has largely been silent on the Penguins’ front-office search. A few names were obvious candidates, such as former Penguins AGM Jason Botterill, and one report put former Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Begervin on the list of interviews, too.
Except the Penguins need a major retooling. An overhaul. The engine is tired. The roster is overpaid, old, and slowing but has no-trade clauses, often combined with no trade value.
An average GM will sink like a magic trick gone wrong, wrapped in the straitjacket of awful decisions by prior GMs as the Penguins’ trunk sinks into the Allegheny River.
A less aggressive GM will nibble at the corners, hoping to slow the obvious decline, which cannot be stopped.
No, the next Pittsburgh Penguins GM needs to be a cap wizard, aggressive on the NHL trade block, and appreciative of analytics (though not deferential to them).
Neither a fly swatter nor a scalpel will work in retooling the Penguins’ roster. A machete-wielding Jason Voorhees approach might not be a bad idea.
A few bold moves or accept the inevitable.
Kyle Dubas has proved his bonafides by getting whatever his team needed. Need grit? Get Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Accairi. And defenseman Luke Schenn. And Jake McCabe.
Last season, it was Mark Giordano with 50% salary retention (a smart and worthwhile gamble at $3.375 million). In 2021, he earned wild praise for getting Nick Foligno (it didn’t work, but the GM did his job). In 2019, it was tough defenseman Jake Muzzin.
Those names were acquired in the last two seasons, as Dubas kept adding. He kept retooling his roster that needed to compete with the loaded Tampa Bay Lightning, 2022 Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers, and always-tough Boston Bruins.
Dubas did it while keeping his incredibly talented top-six with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander together and signing them to deals that look better and better as the years pass.
But no, Dubas can’t make the stars carry their team in the NHL playoffs. A few stumbled against Florida.
Dubas’ shortcoming was obvious. The Toronto Maple Leafs have fumbled for a goalie for several seasons. While others in their division produced or acquired legitimate No. 1 goalies, Toronto turned to a creaky Matt Murray and leaky Ilya Samsonov.
Hey, the analytics said that should work. It didn’t. But the thing about Dubas is that if you follow his career, he’s continually evolving. He went big-game hunting early in his GM tenure, but in the last few years, he’s been adding depth and some toughness, hoping the next piece is the one to put the talented team over the top.
But he didn’t get to the finish line in time. The pressure cooker of Toronto, the largest hockey market in the league, with no shortage of intense media scrutiny and fan pressure, won’t be satisfied until Toronto wins the Stanley Cup.
(And the next day, demands to repeat will probably start).
This writer remains interested in several GM candidates, such as Steve Greeley of the Dallas Stars and former Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka. Still, Dubas has the best track record of any potential Penguins GM candidate.
That’s hard to ignore.
Let’s not forget Dubas’ sleight of hand at the 2021 Expansion Draft. While former Penguins GM Ron Hextall was suckered into giving up two players, Dubas lost none. In fact, it was Dubas who suckered Hextall into giving him Jared McCann for essentially nothing, then allowing Seattle to take McCann, keeping the Toronto roster intact.
Hextall lost McCann and Brandon Tanev. A magician and a mark, and which GM was which should be obvious.
If there is one GM who has shown an ability to avoid terrible contracts, make bad players disappear (Petr Mrazek, Nick Ritchie), and work the salary cap like a snake charmer, it is Dubas.
Dubas’ work with the cap to keep Marner wrote the book on using LTIR to a team’s advantage.
Yeah, if Toronto president of hockey operations Brendan Shanahan doesn’t lock Kyle Dubas in a room and force him to sign an extension, Pittsburgh Penguins owners Fenway Sports Group should be waiting outside his office on Bay Street with pen, paper, and a checkbook.
Other solid candidates may well do a good job, but if there is a key in that locked safe being dangled by a crane and a way out of the straitjacket before plunging into the icy waters of failure, Dubas is the most likely to know how to do the trick.