Ever since their comparatively shocking regular-season elimination, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been a franchise in transition. General manager (GM) Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke were swiftly dismissed as new owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) made huge changes to the front office. As a result, they are now on the hunt for new management, having begun the process and progressed to the interview stage with a few select candidates. Among the potential new hires is also the one that is making FSG salivate, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.
Dubas’ pedigree makes him one of the most attractive candidates for the position, and the possibility of him running the Penguins just got even more likely after the Maple Leafs’ elimination from the 2023 Postseason.
Dubas Has Proven His Ability to Galvanize Teams
Before he became GM of the Maple Leafs, Dubas honed his skills at the helm of their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. His tenure culminated in a Calder Cup victory in 2018, teaming up with current Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe and future regulars Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. The title win constituted the first championship in professional hockey for the city of Toronto since the Maple Leafs’ last Cup victory in 1967. He managed to parlay that success into the GM job with the big club, becoming the second-youngest GM in the NHL. He quickly capitalized on the wealth of talent in the system and a series of high draft picks to turn the Leafs into a perennial contender.
Along with his position as the Marlies’ GM, he simultaneously held the position of assistant GM of the Maple Leafs, working alongside Lou Lamoriello as franchise cornerstones Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were drafted and organizational perception shifted from disappointment to prosperity. He got his first chance to lead the team on his own when Lamoriello was dismissed in 2018, drafting Rasmus Sandin and signing free agent John Tavares as some of his first big moves.
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As a result, they catapulted from the basement of the NHL to become one of its most successful teams in recent years. His ability to determine the best attributes of players and acquire those best suited to the team’s needs would present a marked contrast to Hextall’s up-and-down transaction record.
Penguins’ Culture Can Be Improved By Dubas’ Arrival
The Penguins have a culture problem right now. For the first time in nearly two decades, they have missed out on postseason play. Ever since they drafted Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have become an organization that expects to win. However, the failure to qualify for the postseason has caused many in the organization to wonder what the next steps are. Among the most obvious of changes needing to be made is one of coaching philosophy, exemplified by head coach Mike Sullivan’s cuddlesome attitude toward the Penguins’ veterans when other more worthy players toil in the AHL. If hired, Dubas will give an opportunity to minor leaguers like Ty Smith, Jonathan Gruden, and Fillip Hållander.
Dubas’ philosophy is antithetical to Sullivan’s in this regard. Although the distinction must be made that the Maple Leafs’ young players were more fully developed earlier, he nevertheless allowed them to hone their skills in the NHL rather than keep them away. Players like Marner, Matthews, William Nylander, and Timothy Liljegren all blossomed with the Maple Leafs on Dubas’ watch, proving that if young players get regular playing time, they can demonstrate their ability to lead a culture shift. Make no mistake, Dubas uses veterans as well, but in a manner that complements the team rather than acts as a detriment to it. Even though they failed to make it out of the first round in those past seasons, the premonition to add Jason Spezza in 2019 and Wayne Simmonds in 2020 proved essential to the Leafs’ success in those years.
Penguins’ History of Success Could Entice Dubas
Despite all of his accomplishments, one thing has continued to elude him, which is success at the NHL level. Yes, the Maple Leafs have made the postseason every year of his tenure and every year since 2017. Yes, Matthews has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Yes, Marner has developed into one of the league’s best forwards and consistently appears in the top five of league scoring. However, despite putting together a successful team filled with individual superstars, winning anything has thus far proven elusive for Dubas. The Penguins, by extension, represent that which he wants to be a part of. An organization that has won three Stanley Cups in the past 15 years and owns a reputation as one of the best teams of the 21st century, the Penguins could provide what he has been looking for ever since he began his career.
The chance to work for and with an organization of proven winners and augmenting a team that includes some of the greatest players of all time certainly proves to be an attractive offer. Although the Maple Leafs have arguably been the statistically better team than the Penguins in recent years, the difference in pressure between Toronto and Pittsburgh could provide relief for someone like Dubas, who has been scrutinized – fairly in some cases and unfairly in others – in addition to a culture shift. It may be fair to say Dubas needs the Penguins as much as they need him.