Molinari: Here’s a To-Do List for Penguins’ New GM
Fenway Sports Group officials have spent the past six weeks trying to determine who should be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ next general manager.
That’s a whole lot more time than whoever gets selected will have to deal with the many challenges that will come with the position.
Like, about six weeks more.
Being able to multi-task will be mandatory for the new GM — that’s the case for someone running even the most successful and efficient operation in the NHL, let alone one with as many issues as the Penguins have — but it will be important to prioritize issues, because even the biggest ones won’t all have the same level of urgency.
Here’s one version of what that list should look like:
1. Get to know your staffers. Quickly
Whoever gets the job after such an exhaustive search presumably will have an impressive resume and be quite sharp — perhaps even as smart as they consider themselves to be — but will have no way of knowing the finer points of the state of the franchise, particularly its playing personnel and how those men fit together as a group.
That makes it imperative that the GM get input from people already on the Penguins’ payroll, and the GM won’t have long to figure out whose judgment can be trusted and whose is suspect.
Even if the GM brings in subordinates from a previous stop, those people also figure to have limited knowledge of the Penguins’ personnel.
Consequently, with free agency and the NHL Draft looming, there will be no choice but to absorb information from those already working here. Deciding whose opinions offer the most accurate insights will be critical, because those perspectives will help to shape some of the moves that will be made this summer.
2. Figure out your goaltending
Goaltending is the most important position on any club — without it, what the 18 forwards and defensemen do generally doesn’t matter — and it’s not clear who their go-to guy there will be in 2023-24.
Tristan Jarry is the incumbent No. 1, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent July 1 if not re-signed by then.
There seems to be no consensus on whether the Pittsburgh Penguins should try to keep him, and the new GM will have to figure out whether that would be prudent.
Jarry probably is the headliner of a lackluster crop of pending UFA goalies, so if the new GM decides to let him walk, finding a capable replacement won’t be easy. Filling the void via a trade is always a possibility, but few clubs are eager to part with a No. 1-caliber goaltender.
Determining how to proceed likely will be the most important call the next GM makes this summer.
3. Decide which free agents to retain
Although Jarry is perhaps the Penguins’ most prominent free-agent-to-be, he’s not the only one with an expiring contract.
The list includes forwards Jason Zucker, Josh Archibald, Nick Bonino and Danton Heinen, along with defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Dmitry Kulikov.
Zucker is the most important — and will be the most expensive — in that group, and the Penguins do not currently have anyone who could take his spot on the No. 2 line, so holding onto him (at any reasonable cost) should be a point of emphasis.
Figuring out where any of the others fit into the franchise’s future, or whether they do at all, isn’t as clear-cut, and letting at least some of them move on would open a bit of salary-cap space. (This is an area in which input from people already in the organization should be particularly valuable.)
Once those decisions are made, the new GM can shift focus to which free agents from other teams should be pursued, as well as what trade options should be explored.
4. Go in-depth on possible first-round draft picks
First-round draft choices have been about as rare as playoff-series victories around here, so the importance of making good use of the 14th overall choice this year is obvious.
Because identifying which teenaged hockey players will mature into productive pros is an imprecise science, at best, the new GM will have to collect as much information as possible about the prospects likely to be available when the Pittsburgh Penguins select to maximize the chances of picking someone who can be counted on to contribute in a few years.
Defenseman Owen Pickering, who the Penguins claimed with the 21st choice a year ago, has shown real promise, even though he’s not likely to crack the NHL lineup anytime soon, and the new GM has to make sure that the guy they choose has at least as much potential as Pickering.
5. Upgrade the talent in Wilkes-Barre
Stocking the Pittsburgh Penguins’ primary farm team with quality prospects will be a long-term proposition — it will entail retaining draft choices and using them wisely — but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could get a quick boost with an infusion of veteran free agents who might have limited potential to contribute to the parent club, but can provide stability and leadership in the American Hockey League.
Not so long ago, winning was a given in Wilkes-Barre, as were annual appearances in the Calder Cup playoffs. Having young players develop in such a positive atmosphere can do nothing but help them to progress, so there’s much more at stake here than just having a gaudy win-loss record for your top affiliate.
“perhaps even as smart as they consider themselves to be.” That is solid analysis and solid writing. The downfall of many a GM/PHO.
A quality GM is one who understands that he does not have all the answers, and that input from others who are more familiar with the subject matter in question can be invaluable. (I believe it was a Chinese philosopher who said something to the effect of, “The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.” Whether he was referring to the mysteries of the NHL draft or free agency, I cannot say.)
Start with the draft..Head of Amateur scouting..Nick Pryor.Oh yeah they fired his dad recently..no problem right.. soon to be replaced..then Kerry Huffman head of Pro Scouting soon to be replaced..no problem..I just wonder if Dubas is still thinking..hmm do I really want this job
It’s not in the long-term career interests of any scout, pro or amateur, to provide the GM running a draft with anything less than the best possible information. I agree that the next GM likely will bring in some familiar faces with both staffs — pretty much all GMs do — but neither Nick Pryor not Kerry Huffman is ready to retire, so it’s logical that they’d want to guard against putting any unnecessary blemishes on their resumes. (And it’s unlikely either wants to have his career hinge on Ron Hextall getting another GM job anytime soon.)
Agreed but can you remember the last time something like this happened…got to be uncomfortable for all parties…
I used to win the cup every year in NHL 21. Wheelin and dealin my team was stacked every year with under 30 year old studs with great speed and shot power and plenty of great draft picks too. Id be available for less than a mil a year too 🙂
Solid Suggestions Dave. But you forgot THREE Major issues. 1) What players need to be considered for buy-out? Specifically, M. Granlund who is pathetic with a 5M contract. 2) What to do with players who are “dead wood” past their prime, likely unmovable or buy-out candidates (J. Carter) He is just well past his expiration date. Those two who are NOT UFA’s make up no less than 8.125M of the cap. 3) Revamping the scouting department. It needs a complete overhaul and some new blood. Perhaps it will have to wait until after the draft but talent evaluation and player… Read more »
Here’s the angle that the local media have whiffed on: Is it possible that Dubas could bring Matthews with him? Both are represented by the same agency. Matthews is a Duby guy and cannot be thrilled about what has transpired in Toronto lately, not after a 111-point regular season and first-round playoff victory. Does he really want to re-up with a franchise that has an uncertain future in the most toxic hockey market in the world in a country that hasn’t won a SC in 30 years? The Pens should be all over the chance to land a superstar to… Read more »
Dave, one potential answer to number 2, that I haven’t seen you or Dan discuss, is signing Swayman to an offers heat. As long as they sign him to between $2.15 million and $4.29 million compensation would be their 2nd round pick. Boston is in salary cap hell and would have a hard time matching and if they did they would have less money to spend on the rest of their roster. It’s a win/win situation for the Penguins.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t a team need it’s own 2nd round draft pick to make this work? The Penguins traded theirs already, so this is effectively impossible