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Kyle Dubas’ Trade Record With Penguins: Hits & Misses

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Erik Karlsson

Kyle Dubas has made it clear that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ approach to the offseason will not involve a tear-it-down rebuild, that the plan will be to construct a playoffs-caliber team via trades, free-agent signings and promotions from the farm team in Wilkes-Barre.

Dubas, like most general managers, won’t be divulging the details of what he intends to do between now and the start of training camp in September, but one thing that’s certain is that his plan will have to be fluid and flexible, because situations can change — for better or worse — in a matter of days, if not hours.

Teams, for example, can make it known that a player, previously thought to be secure with that club, actually is available, at least for someone willing to pay the right price. And once free agency gets going in July, other guys will go on the market because their teams have signed someone who is viewed as an upgrade, or even because they have made some moves that put them near, if not over, the salary-cap ceiling.

Dubas has been in his job as the Penguins’ president of hockey operations and GM for less than a year, so it’s a little early to say whether he has a preferred method of restructuring his roster. He has, however, proven willing to negotiate trades, so it’s reasonable to believe he’ll be open to dealing if a player he likes goes on the market.

Here’s a chronological look at the four most significant acquisitions Dubas has made since succeeding Ron Hextall as GM last spring:

Reilly Smith

Price: 2024 third-round draft pick.
Why he was acquired: To replace Jason Zucker as a top-six left winger.
How he’s worked out: Not very well, for the most part. After meshing nicely with Evgeni Malkin early in the season and scoring six goals in the first 10 games, Smith became a virtual non-factor and eventually played his way off the top two lines. Whether he was not happy about leaving Vegas, which put him on the market after winning the Stanley Cup because of a salary-cap crunch, is hard to say, but Smith was not the solid two-way contributor he had been with the Golden Knights, or in earlier stints with Florida and Boston. He showed occasional flashes of being the player the Penguins hoped they were getting, but not nearly enough of them. The Pittsburgh Penguins would be willing to trade him, although they likely would be selling low. Maybe even lower than Vegas did.

Erik Karlsson (plus Rem Pitlick and a 2026 third-round draft pick)

Price: Jeff Petry, Casey DeSmith, Nathan Legare, Mikael Granlund, Jan Ruuta, 2024 first-round pick, 2025 second-round pick.
Why he was acquired: To add an offensive dimension to the defense corps and upgrade the power play.
How he’s worked out: The Penguins, realistically or otherwise, viewed themselves as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, so bringing in a potential difference-maker like Karlsson made a lot of sense, even if that was not their most pressing personnel need. But considering that they’re sitting out the playoffs for the second year in a row rather than chasing another championship and that their power play got even worse, dropping from 25th to 30th in the league rankings, it’s hard to see how adding Karlsson was a plus. That he’s an exceptional skater with outstanding offensive talents defies contention — there’s a reason he has three Norris trophies and will end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame — but some of Karlsson’s decision-making and execution, especially in the defensive zone, go far beyond perplexing.

Emil Bemstrom

Price: Alex Nylander, 2026 sixth-round draft pick.
Why he was acquired: To add scoring to the third or fourth line.
How he’s worked out: Bemstrom had three goals in 24 games after being acquired from Columbus, so he clearly did not have the impact for which the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping. The good news for them — if there is any — is that if Bemstrom scored six or more times after joining them, the pick they sent to the Blue Jackets would have been upgraded to a third-rounder. Bemstrom owns a wicked shot, but its value is limited if it doesn’t produce goals on a fairly regular basis. He’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, so it will be interesting to see whether Dubas views him as an asset worth retaining.

Michael Bunting (plus 3 prospects and 2024 conditional No. 2 and No. 5 draft picks)

Price: Jake Guentzel, Ty Smith.
Why he was acquired: To help fill top-six void created by losing Guentzel.
How he’s worked out: This is the kind of deal the Penguins hadn’t made in the better part of two decades, parting with a major contributor so that another club could bolster its lineup for a playoff run, and it can’t be fully judged until it’s determined how the prospects — forwards Vasily Ponomarev, Ville Koivunen and Cruz Lucius — and draft choices work out. The early returns, though, are that both clubs are happy with what they got. Guentzel has been productive with the Hurricanes and Bunting gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a badly needed infusion of grit and fire, along with a decent scoring touch. While he definitely is not Guentzel’s offensive equal, Bunting is a legitimate top-six winger who also could be effective if deployed on a third line.