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Molinari: How Kyle Dubas is Winning Over a Skeptic. Me (+)



Pittsburgh Penguins trade, kyle dubas, Penguins trade talk 2

Ron Hextall probably was still cleaning out his office when undercurrents of support for Kyle Dubas to replace him as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins began to circulate.

That seemed, at the time, about as likely to happen as the NHL suddenly carving out a spot for the Penguins in the Eastern Conference playoff field, even though, for the first time since 2006, they hadn’t earned enough points to qualify.

Dubas, after all, appeared to be fully committed to Toronto, where he was in his fifth season as GM and where his work had received generally favorable reviews.

Sure, his contract was due to expire in a few months, but Dubas had made it known that he wasn’t interested in leaving the Maple Leafs and the people above him on the corporate food chain appeared to be generally happy with his performance.

Besides, there was no shortage of attractive candidates to succeed Hextall. Former Pittsburgh Penguins associate GM Jason Botterill and New Jersey assistant GM Dan MacKinnon were in that group, along with several others, most of whom seemed roughly as qualified as Dubas, in addition to being interested and available.

But in mid-May, just a week after Florida had upset Toronto in Round 2 of the playoffs, negotiations between Dubas and Brendan Shanahan, the Maple Leafs’ president of hockey operations, broke down, even though it looked as if an agreement was near.

Suddenly, Dubas — who had said he expected to either remain GM in Toronto or take the coming season off — was on the market, and Fenway Sports Group made certain he didn’t stay there long, introducing him as the Penguins’ president of hockey operations on June 1.

Dubas said then that he would serve as interim GM, but planned to aggressively search for a full-time GM once the Penguins were past the NHL Draft and the early days of free agency. Ultimately, however, he decided to assume that position himself.

Although Dubas, 37, is obviously young and energetic, the suspicion here was that he was setting himself up to be overextended, that while he clearly relished the authority that came with taking on the dual role, the workload of handling both jobs might prove to be crushing.

Perhaps, at some point, it will.

It certainly hasn’t yet.

Dubas could (and should) have eased the burden on himself by bringing in someone with extensive front-office experience to assist him, regardless of the title — GM, associate GM, assistant GM, whatever — that individual might have been given.

Instead, he named Jason Spezza, the longtime NHL center who had worked with him during Dubas’ final season in Toronto, as his assistant.

While Spezza seems to have the potential to develop into a top-shelf management figure, it was wise of Dubas to line up longtime San Jose GM Doug Wilson as a special advisor a few days ago.

Wilson’s experience as a front-office veteran and Hall of Fame defenseman means he can be a major asset as a sounding board, and Dubas shouldn’t be shy about leaning on him.

Adding Wilson was just the latest in a series of shrewd moves Dubas has made during his first three-plus months in the organization, most of which will be evident on the ice during the coming season.

That’s not to suggest that Dubas’ judgment is infallible. He did, for example, acquire former Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (and his $6.25 million salary-cap hit) from Ottawa last summer in an ill-fated attempt to upgrade and stabilize Toronto at that position.

The plain truth, though, is that the only GMs who don’t make an occasional mistake are the GMs who doesn’t do anything. (Consider this your periodic reminder that Craig Patrick, widely regarded as the best GM in franchise history, swapped Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov.)

While a few of Dubas’ personnel decisions — not re-signing Jason Zucker, making a five-year commitment to Tristan Jarry — might invite second-guessing, nothing he’s done so far has been flat-out perplexing. Like, you know, giving Jeff Carter a multi-year contract extension with a $3.125 million cap hit when he was 37 years old.

Yeah, Zucker is tenacious and a reliable goal-scorer when he is healthy, but Reilly Smith is more versatile and capable of filling Zucker’s top-six niche. And yes, going all-in on Jarry is a gamble, but he was the best option available this summer and has proven he can play at a high level when healthy. Getting him to stay that way is the real challenge.

Factor in all Dubas has done to bolster the third and fourth lines, landing Ryan Graves to replace Brian Dumoulin as Kris Letang’s defense partner and the extraordinary deal he constructed to land Erik Karlsson, and Dubas’ accomplishments since joining the Penguins are nothing shy of remarkable.

It’s unlikely that he has transformed the Penguins into short-list Stanley Cup contenders — that would be a miracle of near-Biblical proportions — but Dubas at least has made them more than an afterthought in that conversation.

This franchise has caught a number of exceptionally fortunate breaks in recent decades, from Jaromir Jagr slipping to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990 NHL Draft to winning the lottery that allowed them to secure the rights to Sidney Crosby.

Someday, the chain of events that made it possible for them to hire Kyle Dubas (and the wisdom to give him the authority he wanted) might be recognized as another of those.