It’s been a couple of weeks since the Fenway Sports Group appointed, nay, anointed Kyle Dubas as the controller of all things hockey within the Penguins universe. He subsequently cleared a few of the former regime’s scouts and head of sports science but has not yet made a hockey move. No Penguins trades and no new contracts.
The number of moves is theoretically endless, but in reality, a handful of moves are so obvious even we armchair GMs see them coming.
And which moves are most likely?
For the record, the odds are for amusement and illustration purposes only. No, we will not be taking bets, but if you get it right, you’re free to request a soda when you see me out and about (in Vegas or Pittsburgh).
Buyout Mikael Granlund: Even money.
The buyout window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded, so it could begin this week.
It’s no guarantee Granlund’s $5 million annual cap hit is a buyout casualty, but it’s also quite possible. The Penguins save over $4 million next season, then over $3 million the following season before getting hit with a $1.833 million penalty for two seasons.
Of course, they gave up a second-round pick for Granlund. Regardless of which GM forked over the goodies for Granlund, he’s not washed up. He had 41 points last season, even if he had just six points in 21 games with the Penguins.
Re-Sign Jason Zucker: 4-1
The Pittsburgh Penguins UFAs have been circling and waiting for a GM to be in place. There is finally someone to call to begin negotiations.
It’s not a slam dunk that Zucker returns. At 31, with a significant recent injury history, this is his last chance to cash in, so he probably goes for the biggest payday. However, Zucker also fits everything coach Mike Sullivan wants to do with the Penguins, including adding speed.
Will teams pay for Zucker’s 27 goals this season, or will they temper their offers for a player who had not played a full season three years running until 2022-23? Our bet is on the latter, making Zucker affordable, but perhaps not until he and his representation see other offers on July 1.
One thing to consider, Zucker’s agent Eustace King has been embattled since going to bat for client Mitchell Miller in Boston last summer. In school, Miller was a noted bully who did incredibly mean things to a mentally challenged classmate. King sold the Bruins on Miller’s therapy, making amends, and Miller became friends with the bullied, but the abused publicly refuted King’s claims. The public outcry was so overwhelming that the Bruins terminated Miller’s entry-level contract a few days later.
King is down to only a handful of clients playing in the NHL (Jared Spurgeon, Troy Stecher, Cole Smith, and Zucker). He, too, has an extra incentive for a hefty payday for his client.
Trading Down at the NHL Draft: 2-1
Dubas sacrificed a better pick for more picks six times in six years. Given the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lack of prospects and lack of a second-round pick, a Penguins trade for more picks seems to be a good bet. However, picking 14th will also allow Dubas to look at some very good prospects.
If they really like one, they could stand pat.
Re-Signing Brian Dumoulin: 10-1
Sure, if Dumoulin takes a bargain basement short-term contract, he could be a nice third-pair D-man, but this season it looked like Father Time was waiting in the wings. Dumoulin had a good rebound at mid-season and produced solid play, but again dipped later in the season. After a significant knee surgery months before the start of last season, he struggled with consistency and mobility.
It’s probably the end for Dumoulin in Pittsburgh.
Of course, the reason it’s not a guaranteed end is coach Mike Sullivan’s trust factor. Sullivan still trusted Dumoulin throughout the season and returned him to high-leverage situations when his movement improved. With many decisions and a short time to make them, Sullivan could ask for Dumoulin’s return, and Dubas could follow the advice.
Before you criticize, that’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s a good coach-GM relationship.
Re-signing RFAs Drew O’Connor and Ryan Poehling: 3-1
This is an easy move. It’s a no-brainer, really. The only wild card could be if either wants a healthy salary beyond, say, $1.5 million. Otherwise, a bridge deal or a short-term deal at about $1 million would be an easy yes.
Since both are eligible for arbitration, they could go through the full process. Recall four years ago, Zach Aston-Reese signed a contract at the arbitration table before the hearing began. He signed for $2 million. Neither Poehling nor O’Connor played a full season and were lineup mainstays like Aston-Reese.
Both showed significant potential and are worth keeping around, but not on the player’s terms, at least not yet.
Trading a popular veteran: 10-1
A controversial or big-name Penguins trade cannot be discounted. The Penguins need an overhaul of mind, body, and spirit. One of Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, or Rickard Rakell could be used as trade bait.
To make big changes, you need to make big moves.
It seems unlikely that would be Dubas’s first move, but it’s on the table because those players are the Penguins’ biggest assets beyond the three core players.
Trading Jeff Petry: 6-1
Probably not, but Petry’s first season with the Penguins was OK. It wasn’t great, and it wasn’t bad. Injuries, adjustment, and perhaps not being a perfect fit kept Petry from his fullest potential. Could Dubas circle Petry’s $6.25 million AAV cap hit and try to clear more cap space for free agency?
The Field: 5-1
Could Dubas swing a big splash we don’t see coming? Could Dubas ring Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving and ask for one of his former players with significant value? Could he swing a trade for a player that was vetoed in Toronto?
The unexpected cannot be discounted. Dubas is 37 but not a newbie. He has friends in low places and high places and the data team to back him up.