It turns out that Kyle Dubas is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new general manager, after all.
He just doesn’t plan to hold the job for very long.
But with the NHL Draft only four weeks away and the free-agent signing period starting a few days later, Dubas, named the team’s president of hockey operations Thursday, told a press conference that he plans to serve as interim GM until next month, at which time he will search for someone to fill that job permanently.
“With it being June 1, it might be a little difficult to gain further permissions (from other teams) to meet with some of those candidates regarding a general manager position,” he said. “So my intention is that I’ll handle that on an interim basis here, through to July.”
Three current NHL assistant GMs — Mathieu Darche (Tampa Bay), Steve Greeley (Dallas) and Jason Botterill (Seattle) — are believed to have still been in contention to succeed Ron Hextall as GM before Dubas decided to temporarily assume those duties.
When he does begin to seek someone to move into that role, Dubas said he will “be looking for someone progressive who can really add an element to the organization that perhaps I don’t have as a skills set, in some regard.”
One of the first issues Dubas will confront as interim GM is whether to try to re-sign No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1. Dubas said he will try to meet with Jarry and plans to consult coach Mike Sullivan and goaltending coach Andy Chiodo about the most prudent course of action.
“It’s going to be doing a very thorough evaluation of Tristan, where he stands in the marketplace,” Dubas said. “Get a real scope of who’s going to be available, whether that’s in free agency or a trade. Then, if Tristan is at the top of that (list), at the top of that mix or in that mix, because he’s familiar and you know him, it’ll be to try to establish a concept that can get done with him and his agent.”
On other issues, Dubas:
*** Sounded upbeat about being able to pull off the personnel upgrades that would be needed to make the Pittsburgh Penguins a serious Stanley Cup contender, while simultaneously building up the organization’s quality and depth outside of the major-league level.
“The way I view it is that if people want to bet against Mike Sullivan, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and others, they can go ahead and do so,” he said. “But I’m going to bet on them, and go with them.
“We need to build out the depth of the group and supplement the greatness that those people bring each day. I think there are some of those pieces that are already here, but in the next several weeks, we’ll get to work on more of that.”
The areas of emphasis, he said, will be goaltending, the defense corps and the bottom-six forwards.
“There’s big decisions that need to be made on defense, both at the top of the defense group and on depth,” Dubas said. “There’s big decisions to be made up front.”
He also conceded that having eight players with some form of no-trade and/or no-movement clause in their contracts could complicate his efforts to reshape the roster.
*** Labeled faring well inside the Metropolitan Division as a top priority.
“Let’s focus on our division and let’s focus on trying to win our division,” Dubas said. “We play the most games there. That’s what’s going to set our playoff seeding. We’ve got to be inside the top three to lock ourselves in, and our goal is going to be to win the division.”
*** Acknowledged that he will seek input about players from the coaching staffs of the Penguins and their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, but said he isn’t entirely unfamiliar with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel.
“Especially because Pittsburgh was a conference rival in my prior post (as GM in Toronto), I try to stay up to date both at the NHL level (and the) AHL level with every team, so I have my feelings on the group that’s here,” he said.
“In going through this process the last few weeks, it’s been clear to me that there’s a very good group of people here in the background that people speak very highly of. As I’ve begun to see their work in the last few days, I think it will be very helpful for me in going through that … as it pertains to the draft.”
Dubas added that he has “fairly decent knowledge” of the 2023 draft, in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to have the 14th overall pick.
*** Did not explicitly say that he plans to retain Sullivan as coach, but made it pretty clear that removing him is not in the plans.
“He’s a great coach, so there’s no real expiration date on Mike,” Dubas said.
Sullivan signed a contract that runs through the 2026-27 season last year.
*** Has not discussed any interest Sidney Crosby might have in signing a contract after his current one expires in 2025, Negotiations on any such deal could not begin until next summer.
“It was very evident in talking to him that winning is his major focus every day,” Dubas said.