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Four Things Penguins Should Not Do Before Next Season

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Kyle Dubas

Kyle Dubas, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations and general manager, undoubtedly has a lengthy to-do list for this offseason.

After all, transforming an aging team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for two years in a row and hasn’t won a series since 2018 into a legitimate championship contender will require an incredible amount of work.

To say nothing of considerable luck and a few minor miracles.

But no less important than the things Dubas must do are the ones he should not, which means he also should have a don’t-do list. In the weeks and months ahead, Dubas should not:

1. Replace Mike Sullivan, unless …

Dubas could delight a segment of the fan base — a decidedly vocal one, at that — by cutting ties with Sullivan and he probably would not have to struggle to justify such a decision.

Not when the Penguins have endured back-to-back disappointing regular seasons and failed to escape the opening round of the playoffs in the four springs before that.

That Sullivan — who’s more highly regarded in most of the hockey world than he is by many Pittsburgh Penguins partisans — would be on the market for about 90 seconds before receiving his first call offering a job elsewhere is not the point; what matters is whether he is the right coach for this team, at this time.

If Dubas concludes that someone else could get more out of this group than Sullivan, it’s incumbent on him to make a change, even if that entails the franchise eating some or all of Sullivan’s three-year, $16.5 million contract that’s about to take effect.

But that’s the only valid reason for putting someone new in charge of the bench. Change for its own sake — or even to just shake things up or placate some of the ticket-buying public — is not what the franchise needs now.

Dubas has the security of a contract that’s believed to cover seven years and be worth $49 million, so his decisions don’t have to be popular. Just correct.

2. Trade another No. 1 draft choice.

The Penguins have routinely traded their first-round draft choices for most of the past two decades in return for instant roster upgrades, and that made sense for all those years when they were on the short list of true Cup contenders.

That those moves didn’t always pay off isn’t the point; if winning championships were easy, earning one (let alone three in nine seasons) wouldn’t be such an epic accomplishment.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins no longer are an impact player or two from seriously challenging for a Cup, and they should stop giving away significant pieces of their future. While drafting teenagers is, at best, an imprecise pursuit, early-round choices can provide a big part of a franchise’s foundation.

Exhibit A: Moose Jaw forward Brayden Yager, the Penguins’ first-rounder in 2023, who looks like he could be a major contributor in a couple of years.

Dubas already has dealt their 2024 No. 1 pick. The ones they have in future years are assets that must be retained.

3. Balk at asking that no-trade clauses be waived.

Five players — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson — have no-movement clauses in their contracts, and there’s no indication Dubas will try to trade any of them, even if they were willing to waive that protection.

Seven others — Rickard Rakell, Reilly Smith, Michael Bunting, Noel Acciari, Tristan Jarry, Ryan Graves and Marcus Pettersson — have limited no-trade clauses, allowing them to veto trades to a specified number of teams.

That would complicate an effort to deal any of them, which is not to suggest that all are — or should be — on the trade block as the offseason progresses, but Dubas has to explore all reasonable proposals that come along, and should not hesitate to ask any player to drop his no-trade if a move he’s considering involves a club on that individual’s list.

Players, of course, would have no obligation to do so — they generally sacrifice some salary to get such a say in their future — but the Penguins being willing to part with a guy might convince him to go somewhere that he is more wanted/needed.

4. Be delusional about that this team can achieve.

The Penguins were one of the NHL’s premier teams for a lot of years, with a 16-year run of playoff appearances.

It is time, however, for ownership and management to acknowledge the reality that that chapter in franchise history effectively has closed, and to temper expectations accordingly.

Unless Dubas can pull off the most extraordinary overhaul in hockey history — beginning with convincing, say, Colorado to part with Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar in return for a conditional seventh-round draft choice and future considerations of negligible value — this team cannot be transformed into an A-list Cup contender.

Too many other clubs are too much younger, faster and deeper.

The Penguins have developed a large, loyal following over the past 30-plus years, and it’s understandable if their supporters have gotten a bit spoiled. Winning five Cups in 27 seasons and having once-in-a-lifetime talents turn up on the depth chart every couple of decades will do that.

But trying to sell the Pittsburgh Penguins as a potential Cup winner in the short-term future defies reason. It makes much more sense to publicly establish more modest objectives, then strive to meet — and maybe even surpass — them.

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JoJo
JoJo
12 days ago

You lost me at point 1 …

Tom D
Tom D
12 days ago
Reply to  JoJo

I somewhat agree with you Jojo. This team needs a new foundations structure. They should be looking to trade Sully. If he’s so wonderful, get a haul of picks and players. Package him up. He’s offered nothing the past two years. Nothing.

GaryK77
GaryK77
12 days ago
Reply to  Tom D

Same here. Maybe Tocchet was the brains behind our cup runs, not Sullivan.

Irish Protection
Irish Protection
4 days ago
Reply to  GaryK77

It will leak out. Guerin and Tocchet had the power with the players. They kept the Cancer under control. Tocchet would tell anyone exactly what he thought and highly respected. Look at Canucks. What Rutherford did once away from Sullivan.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
12 days ago

Great article Dave!

KenNJ
KenNJ
12 days ago

All good points. I would add to “what matters is whether he is the right coach for this team, at this time.” OR IN SEVERAL YEARS. It’s highly likely that Ownership mandated keeping the Core – judging performance all the way down the line gets complicated.

Sam
Sam
12 days ago

I’ll tell you what he SHOULD do. Trade Teflon Mike for the highest draft pick available. Then bring in Keefe who just got axed.

MarkFields
MarkFields
12 days ago
Reply to  Sam

I live in Toronto. Keefe was out coached by every coach he faced in the playoffs. He makes poor adjustments in game if at all. He has a team with high end talent and never won his division at best finished 2nd twice out of the 6 years. Lost to Columbus and Montreal in the playoffs two teams who never made the playoffs after. He got a job because he coached in the Soo. The ohl team dubas came from. Toronto never saw him as a good coach. If he becomes out coach over Sullivan. Then I’m sorry things won’t… Read more »

Deppert
Deppert
12 days ago

#4 : winner winner chicken dinner

Dave Roscoe
Dave Roscoe
12 days ago

I believe that unlike NFL coaches, hockey coaches cannot be traded.

Uros
Uros
11 days ago

Rigt on. There should be no delusional thoughts. Although Carolina is in a 3:0 hole, they’ve acquired Guentzel to win. And my, has he been filling the net. We do act as a team that’s given up, as it should be. There’s no way we can reshape 3 quarters of our roster in time. I mean, at least 3-4 years, by which time it will be full rebuild.