The 2022-23 season is one the Pittsburgh Penguins would rather forget. It was full of injuries and disappointing losses, and it marked the end of a 16-year playoff streak. They entered the offseason with a grocery list of to-dos and have somehow managed to check just about everything off the list. Their first move was the firing of former general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke in April. Then on June 1, Fenway Sports Group announced the hiring of Kyle Dubas as the new president of hockey operations. Since then, Dubas has made it his mission to restore the Penguins to their former glory.
Penguins’ Major Retool
Dubas made it clear from the start that he not only intended to strengthen Pittsburgh’s current team around the core so they could still compete for a championship, but that he also wanted to build for the future. Undoubtedly, the biggest move of the Dubas era to date came about a month ago when the Penguins made a trade for former San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson.
The Penguins traded a 2024 first-round draft pick in addition to forward Mikael Granlund and defenseman Jan Rutta to the Sharks. To ensure that the deal was compliant with the salary cap, the Montreal Canadiens were also a part of the trade as they picked up goaltender Casey DeSmith, defenseman Jeff Petry and a 2025 second-round draft pick.
Karlsson is the best defenseman in the NHL and a three-time Norris Trophy winner. Last season he played in 82 games and scored 25 goals with 76 assists for a total of 101 points. Dubas managed to get rid of Granlund and Petry who were both non-factors last season and bring in a top defenseman who will also be a big contributor on the power play.
Even though the Karlsson deal was the biggest, it is not the only move Dubas has made this summer. Less than a month after being hired, he made a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights to acquire forward Reilly Smith in exchange for a 2024 third-round draft pick. Smith is an extremely versatile player who will also be able to contribute on special teams.
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It is no secret that depth scoring was practically non-existent last season. Dubas wasted no time in adding two new centers to the bottom six, Lars Eller and Noel Acciari. Eller will probably center the third line and although he is no longer the offensive threat he used to be, his two-way game is strong and he is a definite upgrade from Jeff Carter. Acciari is a skillful puck handler and should have no issues stepping into the fourth-line center position. Rem Pitlick and Matt Nieto were also added to the bottom six during the offseason, and forward Drew O’Connor was signed to a two-year contract.
Karlsson was not the only addition to the blue line this summer either. Dubas signed Ryan Graves to a six-year deal worth an average annual value (AAV) of $4.5 million. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he should be the perfect complement to Kris Letang on the top pairing.
The only questionable decision made by Dubas so far was the re-signing of goaltender Tristan Jarry to a five-year term with an AAV of $5.375 million. Jarry battled with injuries for most of last season, and his health is the biggest concern heading into 2023-24. However, the Penguins also signed Alex Nedeljkovic during the offseason as a backup netminder. During the 2020-21 season, he led the league in save percentage and goals-against average with the Carolina Hurricanes. The core is not getting any younger and the Penguins are definitely in win-now mode, and they need a reliable goalie in order to be successful.
Penguins Poised for Success
Dubas came to Pittsburgh at the perfect time, and he has put together a nice body of work during his first three months on the job. He wiped clean all the mistakes from the previous era without a major rebuild. The Penguins are heading into this season as a playoff team at minimum, and they are right on the bubble of contention. If the upgraded bottom six can score goals and if Jarry can stay healthy, the Penguins may just be the dark horse in the Metro.