Kyle Dubas, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations and interim GM, did something noteworthy during the NHL Draft in Nashville this week.
No, it wasn’t investing a first-round draft choice in a prospect from the Western Hockey League, Moose Jaw center Brayden Yager. Heck, the Penguins did that just a year ago, when they secured the rights to Brandon defenseman Owen Pickering.
And it’s not because four of the Penguins’ six selections came from Europe. Players developed on that side of the Atlantic have been a staple in North America for years.
What Dubas did was something that, in most years, actually would have been quite routine: He made a trade.
One that involved an actual player, not just an exchange of slots in the draft order.
The deal he struck to bring in Reilly Smith from Vegas, which got a third-round pick in 2024 for giving him up, was one of the few of that nature struck while the league’s GMs were together for most of the week.
And it probably is an indication of how Dubas plans to go about revamping the Penguins’ lineup this summer.
That doesn’t mean he won’t dabble in the free-agent market when it opens Saturday at noon — it seems entirely possible that he’ll try to upgrade the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bottom-six forwards with some of the players available there — but Dubas’ preference appears to be to focus on acquiring players via trades, ideally from clubs with severe salary-cap constraints.
Like, you know, Vegas had.
“Our move (to get Smith) was better than waiting for free agency, because the return on the dollars on Reilly was right,” Dubas said.
While Dubas — and, no doubt, some of his peers around the league — will be looking to swap assets to fortify areas of the depth chart, he declined to speculate on whether there will be a significant number of trades in coming days.
“It’s impossible to predict,” he said. “I wish I could. … It seems like it’s going to be quite busy. It could also be one of these situations where you’re expecting a lot, and then maybe it goes a little slower than it has the last couple of years. We started to see that a little bit last year, as big-time free agents went until August, where they were still unsigned.
“Especially now, more and more teams, as the years have gone on, their salary-cap space dwindles. At the same time, you have your own young players coming up. You see a trade like the Winnipeg-Los Angeles one this week, where it’s a really good young player (Pierre-Luc Dubois) getting moved (to the Kings) and Winnipeg doing great on their return. Those win-win type trades.”
The salary-cap ceiling for 2023-24 has been set at $83.5 million, a $1 million bump from last season. That modest increase, coupled with a burgeoning trend for teams to make long-term commitments to productive players still in the relatively early stages of their careers, could make for a fairly subdued free-agent market.
“Teams, with their younger players especially, want to get them locked in for eight years, right at the end of their entry-level (contract),” Dubas said. “It sort of depletes what actually gets to free agency. Now, you’re seeing a lot more … I don’t know this for certain, but it feels like players want to sign sooner and get locked in, and that there’s just more available in trade.
“That’s, frankly, a result of the cap just staying flat and teams needing to adapt and adjust and be able find a way to be compliant while also remaining competitive.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the law of supply-and-demand has been repealed. If an effective guy like, say, Penguins winger Jason Zucker is available at noon Saturday, he figures to attract serious interest. And money.
Coaching Staff Addition
Kori Cheverie, an assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s team since 2021, will be a guest coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the coming season.
She will work with the Penguins’ staff during the development camp that begins Saturday, as well as during training camp and periodically throughout the 2023-24 season.
Cheverie assisted the Arizona coaching staff during the Coyotes’ development camp in 2022.