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Dubas, Sullivan on Penguins Future; The Free Agent Strategy



Pittsburgh Penguins Kyle Dubas, Mike Sullivan

LAS VEGAS — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had the uncharacteristically humorous line regarding the potential changes coming for the Penguins this summer.

While many expect sweeping changes or are rooting for such, those changes are unlikely to occur. Regardless of what the Penguins want to do, they find themselves beholden to the present while building for the future. Numerous no-trade and no-movement clauses are the least of the Penguins’ roadblocks on their road forward.

There’s also the matter that few of the players have genuine trade value. While president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas acknowledged the different perspectives between a coach responsible for day-to-day success and his big-picture view, Sullivan seemed to accept what comes next as well.

“That’s not to say for one minute that we’re satisfied with the status quo. I just think the nature of the business of hockey is, you know, we can’t go over to Walmart, buy a player, and put them on the ice,” Sullivan said. “We don’t know where some of the opportunities will present themselves in the league, but I know that there’s there’s a commitment to try to make this team as competitive as it can be.”

What if Walmart did sell hockey players? Wait, never mind.

Since it certainly seems the Penguins are snookered without a clear path out of their current state without affixing future picks to get rid of veterans now, Dubas said he is hoping for short term fixes.

Dubas has sworn off long-term contracts when NHL free agency begins Monday. Without saying it specifically, Dubas is plotting the great transition from the core of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin. He doesn’t want long contracts now that will hinder their salary cap space then.

“It’s not that we’re going to go into free agency and do nothing. We’re going to try to get established guys on short-term deals (who want to) come in and try to help,” said Dubas. “That’ll be up to us to select the right players there. But for me, the major focus is trying to bring in players that are younger, hungrier, and can be with our club for a long time and help us long-term.”

Within the construct of short-term deals, the Penguins might improve via free agency, but the only players who fit Dubas’s edict will be reclamation projects who want short “show me” deals to increase their value so they can sign a better deal in the future and older players for whom a long-term deal doesn’t make sense.

That’s what to expect Monday.

And what might be music to many of your ears, Dubas is going to leave room on the roster for “the kids.” For everyone who clamors to get the prospects to the NHL, it seems Dubas will leave space for that to happen–and we’ll be see who earns it.

“The real goal is to try to take where we’re at and the era that the team has just been through … and return us to be able to hand that over to the next era, but we have to build that era up,” said Dubas. “(We) started last year, (it) goes to the trade deadline, not a popular decision was something we felt we had to do (the Jake Guentzel trade) and tomorrow at the draft and then again on July 1.”

Penguins Immediate Future

So, Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Sullivan and Dubas the million-dollar question in nearly identical words: If the team isn’t going to or can’t make significant changes, what gives them any confidence that things can improve next season?

While Dubas sidestepped that issue, Sullivan steered into the skid. And the Penguins have certainly been in a skid for two years running, not only coming up short in their chase for the playoffs but sometimes short in effort and engagement, too.

And Sullivan’s analysis isn’t so different from what many of you think.

“I think if you looked at the body of work and in different aspects of our game, there was a lot to like about our team. Our five-on-five play was pretty solid. Now, that’s not to suggest that we don’t have areas for improvement. I think we can do a better job defending leads, for example,” said Sullivan. “But our 5v5 game was pretty competitive. The penalty kill was very competitive. I think if we can do a better job solving our challenges on the power play, our power play has the ability to have a little bit more of an impact, I think potentially, this team could be in a different position.”

It’s probably not what many want to hear. Dubas will be disciplined and conservative in free agency. And Sullivan believes the team can compete if the power play, which Sullivan said will be run by assistant coach David Quinn.

And no, power-play goals are not available at Walmart, either, but if they find a few of those, perhaps a few wins will follow.

Penguins Expectations

Make the playoffs? Be more competitive?

Dubas didn’t punt the coming years, but he seemed to skip past them, acknowledging the Penguins are not Stanley Cup contenders and he won’t be mortgaging the future to make that happen now. At the risk of parsing the words beyond his intention, he seems to have drawn a line between the resources he’ll devote to the current team and the future.

“I think for me, the range is looking beyond like just the one season, and I wouldn’t deem it a success if we we got into the playoffs next year by a point. We want to get back to being a contender,” Dubas said. “I mean, the coaches and the players have to look at it day to day. They’re trying to win every day.

“I have to look at it with a much broader lens–for Pittsburgh to be a team that just squeaks in (isn’t good enough). I understand that would be nice to be in, but we want to be a contender. And so we have to put the work in and improve the assets that are going to allow us to get there and do that, and that’s going to be our focus.”

One wonders how that sentiment affects contract talks with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby?