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Recapping Penguins’ Wild Day 1 Free Agent Moves, Trade, Dubas Presser

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Reilly Smith, Pittsburgh Penguins. Jacob Markstrom, NHL trade market

It took a little while longer for the Pittsburgh Penguins to get into the flow of Day 1 of the NHL Free Agent Frenzy. Well before noon, there were some shockers and blockbusters, such as Steven Stamkos bolting Tampa Bay for Nashville and the Washington Capitals acquiring Jakob Chychrun from the Ottawa Senators.

But once president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas got started, it was a full-speed sprint to execute the grand strategy that ushers the Penguins from this era to the next. Dubas has said on multiple occasions that it’s about acquiring draft picks and rebuilding the organization while helping Sidney Crosby and crew remain competitive on the ice.

The Penguins did nothing as bold as acquiring a bonafide top-pairing defenseman or Hall of Fame player. Instead, Dubas acquired nine players, four expected to be on the NHL roster, and eight of them on one-year deals. Dubas also made the long-expected Reilly Smith trade.

The Full Penguins Recap

The Penguins signed depth defenseman Mac Hollowell. He played a few years in the Toronto organization and made his NHL debut in 2022-23. He’s a solid depth addition to the blue line with some offensive talent, but only 5-foot-9. It was a minimum $775,000, one-year deal.

The centerpiece signing of the day happened around 1 p.m. After turning loose P.O Joseph loose on Sunday evening by not qualifying him, Dubas sprung for a solid replacement who is also 5-foot-9, but probably an upgrade: Matt Grzelcyk. For the record, his last name is pronounced Grizzlick. It was a one-year, $2.75 million contract.

The Penguins re-signed defenseman Ryan Shea on a minimum $775,000, one-year deal.

The Penguins are giving LW Anthony Beauvillier another chance. The winger bounced around the NHL like a Plinko chip from Vancouver, Chicago, and Nashville. He netted just five goals and 17 points in 60 games split between all three. Dubas dished a one-year, $1.25 million contract.

If it doesn’t work with Beauvillier, he would cost just $100,000 against the cap when stashed in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. After inking the former Islanders castoff, the Penguins made a trio of minor league signings: Jimmy Huntingdon was part of this year’s Hershey Bears Calder Cup championship, Bokondji Imama is a pounding enforcer, and Nate Clurman is a right-handed defenseman.

The next-to-last contract on Monday was an intriguing get. The Penguins took advantage of the LA Kings decision to no qualifying Blake Lizotte, giving him a small raise on the only two-year contract of the day. Lizotte signed for two years and $1.85 million per season.

Last season, Lizotte sagged to only 15 points, scoring six goals. However, in 2022-23, he set career highs with 21 goals and 34 points.

And finally, the Penguins re-signed Emil Bemstrom to a one-year contract for $775,000. Bemstrom was the Penguins’ trade get when they shipped Alex Nylander to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dubas also surrendered a sixth-round pick in the deal.

The Penguins trade was significant, not for the return but for the departure. Dubas traded Reilly Smith to the New York Rangers for a second-round pick in 2027 and a 2025 fifth-rounder. The Penguins retained 25% of Smith’s salary, which equates to $1.25 million for the coming season.

Smith had just 13 goals with the Penguins.

Kyle Dubas

Dubas spoke Monday afternoon, further reinforcing the strategy to prepare for the future. He repeated that the Penguins squeaking into the playoffs in 2024-25 isn’t as important as rebuilding the team into a contender.

Expect Dubas to consider selling the Penguins’ salary cap space or adding young players who are being squeezed out elsewhere.

“We also want to keep our cap space open in case those opportunities come through the summer,” said Dubas. “We’re seeing already today — we have the (cap) space, and we have the approval on a budget from ownership to go to that point that we can use that space either to acquire good young players or use that space to acquire more assets.”

The Penguins have about $4.3 million in salary cap space remaining.