Thoughts on the Penguins, re-tooling, getting younger, and the mission for next season remaining the same (2024)

Kyle Dubas has talked about two contradictory goals since the day he was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the same balancing act going back to Jim Rutherford that Penguin managers have considered by walking the managerial tight rope of providing as good of a team as possible to Sidney Crosby and the final years of this core — while also trying to set the franchise up for the next era after that.

The first year of Dubas, unfortunately, has disappointed on the ice. The Penguins added Erik Karlsson and some pieces they thought would help make 2023-24 be a team that could get back into the playoffs. That didn’t work out as well as anyone had valid reason to hope it would, the Pens are six points out of a playoff spot and games are running out. But that’s sport, sometimes things don’t turn out as good as intended.

On the plus side, Dubas has begun the process to stock up for the future with talent. He’s added some prospects in the Jake Guentzel trade. Depending on how the season ends, the Pens could have as many as three picks in the first 50 selections of the draft (which would be potentially their own first rounder if it’s in the top 10, Carolina’s first round pick if the Canes win the Stanley Cup which turns into Philadelphia’s second rounder if Carolina doesn’t, plus Pittsburgh’s own second round pick which should be fairly high at this rate). This would be quite the difference from the past -the Pens have had only had two top-50 picks in the last four drafts combined, and haven’t made three top-50ish selections all in the same year since 2012.

So while the plan to add for the future is going relatively well, or at least clearly beginning as Pittsburgh shifts gears into some kind of reload/rebuild mode to be focused on young talent for the mid-term future, there’s still the matter about Crosby, Karlssson, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and the current team for next year.

Dubas shed some light with a recent interview with The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun:

Sat down with Penguins boss Kyle Dubas at the NHL GM meetings. Dubas on ‘tough’ trades, next steps, on No. 87, and on his exit from Toronto. My latest for ⁦@TheAthletic⁩ ⤵️⤵️

— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) March 19, 2024

Dubas, as always, talks glowingly about Mike Sullivan (those expecting the Pens to be changing coaches in the near future will likely keep their ability to gripe for a while), but it’s his talk about the future that stands out.

“But I think everyone’s been pretty clear on where they stand on the fact everyone would like to see [Crosby] end his career in Pittsburgh and it’s my intention that in those years that we’re back and definitively contending.’’

So what does this offseason and beyond look like for Pittsburgh as far as the next steps?

“It’s trying to find our own group of younger players who can come in and support the team, you never know how long that’s going to take,’’ Dubas said of the re-tool in the next few years. “And it’s never certain. Any maneuvers we can take, we want to give ourselves the assets to be able to get into those conversations this summer for good, young players who come available in trades or younger players in free agency.

“That’s our intention at this stage.’’

At 28, Ryan Graves is among the younger free agents and that hasn’t worked out so well, but we will see how Dubas looks to reshape things. The phrase “young free agents” in general can carry a meaning considering that 27 is the standard NHL unrestricted free agent and and some data shows NHL players peak around 25 with gradual fall off from there. Then it usually requires buy a “young” free agent from ages 27-31 or 32 or 33, and suddenly that’s not so young anymore!

That thought aside, Dubas comments clearly indicate what he’s said before: the Penguins aren’t going to attempt to bottom out or be a bad team in the near future in the late Crosby years. They might not be able to be a particularly good team either in the next handful of seasons, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to win games (just as Dubas adding Graves, Reilly Smith, Michael Bunting and others to the roster within the last 12 months has been of that mindset of supporting the core players with good intentions).

How Dubas will look to shape things for next season, as always, will be the interesting part to draw attention and the endless possibilities of what could happen leading up to the active times of player movement around the NHL draft and the start of free agency.

Dubas won’t have a lot of room for error and might have to start undoing moves he’s made. The Pens don’t have many free agents - only Jeff Carter and Alex Nedeljkovic from this year’s team are left that are headed to unrestricted free agency. They only have a small handful of players, mostly in supporting or secondary roles (Emil Bemstrom, P.O. Joseph, Valtteri Puustinen) approaching restricted free agency.

Therefore, to create a new team and give a boost for next season, Dubas will have to branch out and look to move players under contract. Reilly Smith looks like a good starting point after an unfulfilling season for all involved.

Pittsburgh is carrying about $12 million in salary cap space to find these “young” free agents that could boost next season’s team. According to Dubas, the core will likely be the same. Several supporting players have contracts too long to move or have been playing too poor to garner interest, so most of the next level down from the core will likely be back as well.

The past two seasons have shown that the Crosby/Malkin core needs help to finish in the top half of the division/conference and be a playoff contender. That’s made the needle tough to thread to keep the future in mind while also trying to be good now.

Here’s a start: college free agent forward Collin Graf. The Quinnipiac star forward is among the highest scorers in NCAA this season. He has been linked to almost signing with Detroit last year, and has attended prospect camp in Nashville. The Nashville and Edmonton GM’s have both visited Quinnipiac games recently. The Rangers are reportedly buzzing around. It won’t be easy for the Pens to draw his interest when practically every NHL team will have some level of interest in adding this year’s top NCAA undrafted free agent forward, but they should take a shot.

Collin Graf, oh my @QU_MIH

— MS Films (@_msfilms) March 15, 2024

Pittsburgh can offer Graf the opportunity that some of those playoff teams can’t: to play a big role on the NHL team this season. Graf can sign as soon as his college season ends (Quinnipiac plays in the ECAC semi finals on Friday).

Just 21 years old, Graf could be a key piece for the Pens moving forward, if he’s interested in joining them instead of a better team. The best part is he’s an actual “young” free agent, and would be limited in dollars and term on his entry level contract to a team-friendly deal. It’s the type of move that Pittsburgh should be pursuing as much as possible, if they are trying to “get better every day” as Dubas has said. Graf wouldn’t make the Pens a contender alone, but could be an elusive piece to help Pittsburgh be the best they can be in 2023-24 while also getting younger for the future.

Thoughts on the Penguins, re-tooling, getting younger, and the mission for next season remaining the same (2024)


Why should we care about penguins? ›

Penguins have been an essential part of the Southern Hemisphere's ecosystems for many thousands, and in some cases, millions of years. Protecting their populations and the waters they rely on will take a true global commitment.

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With their Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins became the first back-to-back champions in the salary cap era. Several of the team's former members have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, including co-owner Mario Lemieux, who purchased the Penguins in 1999 and brought the club out of bankruptcy.

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Not only is this bad for the penguins, but you could really expect to get a few dirty looks and even a telling off from other travellers who see you interfering with their nests. So, the best thing to do is leave them to their own devices and watch them from a comfortable distance, such as in the awesome…

What would happen if penguins went extinct? ›

Their extinction would have far-reaching knock-on effects on the ecosystem. As indicator species, their extinction would infer that the other species within their ecosystem are weakening – for example, without penguins, seals and other predators would have to adapt to different food sources or face population decline.

Why did Mario Lemieux retire at 38? ›

He retired on two occasions due to these health issues, first in 1997 after battling lymphoma before returning in 2000, and then a second and final time in 2006 after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Lemieux also missed the entire 1994–95 season due to Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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The chief culprit: global warming. Many penguin species also compete with industrial fisheries for food, and their survival and reproduction rely on a delicate balance, to which a single disruption can become catastrophic.

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A study of how changing climate has affected emperor penguins over the last 30,000 years has found that only three populations may have survived during the last ice age, and that the Ross Sea was likely the refuge for one of these populations.

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Penguins evolved to fly underwater.

Most birds have hollow, air-filled bones to help them stay light for flight. Penguins adapted with solid bones instead. This helps them swim because solid bones reduce buoyancy—the tendency to float.

Why do humans love penguins? ›

Penguins are a unique bird that have fascinated humans for centuries. Likely, this is because of their similarity to us. Penguins walk upright, they communicate in a similar pattern to humans, they like to play and have fun and many of them mate for life. They are also stylish and rock a permanent black-tie look!

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Penguins are beautiful creatures. They are great swimmers, have the cutest walk, and are loyal and hopeless romantics. Much so that they are a source of inspiration for movies, series, and documentaries. When watching a show featuring penguins, it becomes impossible not to fall in love with them.

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In the wild they more or less put up with humans, but will keep their distance. However if you have ever been to a zoo with an aquarium they can be taught to do tricks and some penguins even like the touch of man, and can be really friendly and follow their keepers around like a puppy dog.

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