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Penguins’ Dubas Will Get Lots of Calls, But How Many Matter?



Kyle Dubas, Pittsburgh Penguins

There will be innumerable breathless reports across North America between now and the NHL trade deadline next Friday at 3 p.m. about general managers, including Kyle Dubas of the Pittsburgh Penguins, fielding calls inquiring about particular players, and which scouts have requested a press-box seat at which games.

Many, if not all, of those reports will be accurate.

Few, if any, will be of real consequence, for a couple of reasons.

Most importantly, GMs take calls asking about the availability of specific players 12 months a year.

It’s part of the job. Not doing so would be managerial malpractice.

Odds are that one or more of Craig Patrick, Ray Shero, Jim Rutherford, Ron Hextall and Dubas — the five guys who have served as GM of the Penguins since Sidney Crosby joined the franchise in 2005 — has been contacted about the possibility of the Pittsburgh Penguins parting with Crosby.

That doesn’t mean any such proposal ever got an iota of consideration, let alone that the Penguins ever would have considered soliciting bids for him. Other clubs can’t be blamed for trying, though.

And then there are the scouts.

Their job title offers an accurate and succinct description of their duties: They scout games. Or, more to the point, players, although they also note details of the systems employed by the teams they’re watching.

They do it during the preseason. They do it in mid-winter. And, yes, they do it as the trade deadline approaches.

That’s because developing a thorough assessment of every player in the NHL (and a lot of the ones in the minors) is enough work to keep an entire pro scouting staff busy from autumn through spring.

Sure, there are times when a team might want to get a final look at a player or prospect before agreeing to strike a deal at the deadline, but clubs generally have a pretty good idea of a guy’s strengths and weaknesses well before his name turns up in trade talks.

Having a good evaluation on the personnel of other teams comes in handy not only when a GM is trying to finalize a trade — whether it’s at the deadline or in the offseason or in mid-winter — but also when considering whether to put in a waiver claim if a player happens to come available that way.

In the salary-cap era — and with the number of players on NHL contracts capped at 50 — piecing together a competitive roster can be quite challenging.

Which is why GMs answer phone calls year-round, and why scouts scout, from before the season begins until it is over.

None of this is to suggest that the 2024 trade deadline — or the days leading up to it — will be uneventful, and it’s quite possible that the Penguins will be one of the teams whose roster will look dramatically different a week from now.

But if NHL trade speculation, so often rooted in misreading — or overreacting to — basic realities, could be converted to electricity, it would power New York City for a decade. All too often, people immersed in it add 2+2 and come up with 22.

A precautionary tale

The impact of the Penguins’ loss in Seattle Thursday on their hopes of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs is obvious.

The one it potentially had on their plans for the 2024 NHL Draft wasn’t quite so apparent, but ultimately might prove to be no less important.

The Penguins’ inability to take at least one point from the Kraken game dropped them into a tie with Minnesota for 23rd/24th place — the ninth and 10th spots from the bottom of the league — in the overall standings.

When Dubas sent the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round draft choice this year to San Jose last summer as part of the package that landed Erik Karlsson, he took the precaution of making it top-10 protected.

It means that if the Penguins finish in the bottom 10 of the NHL standings this season, they will have the right to hold onto their No. 1 pick and give the Sharks a first-rounder in 2025 instead.

What prompted Dubas to push for that protection isn’t clear — maybe he was trying to guard against the possibility, however remote, of his team’s season being sabotaged by a series of major injuries to key personnel — but it seemed unduly cautious at the time, considering that the Penguins saw themselves as legitimate challengers for a Stanley Cup.

They’re still a pretty good bet to climb above 23rd place in the overall standings, and getting into the playoffs isn’t inconceivable, but the caution Dubas exercised when negotiating to acquire Karlsson might turn out to be one of the most prudent moves he made during his early months on the job.