June 25, 2024

The Penguins concluded the season strongly, posting an impressive 8-1-3 record before being eliminated on the eve of their regular-season finale. Despite this late surge, General Manager Kyle Dubas remains focused on the task at hand. During his season-ending media session at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, Dubas emphasized the need for continued diligence, recognizing that there is still much to accomplish during the offseason.

Dubas looks to 'pivot,' not rebuild in offseason after missing playoffs

Dubas characterized the season as a “roller coaster ride,” emphasizing the team’s fluctuations throughout the year. From a challenging start to a strong stretch, followed by a rough patch and a solid finish, the Penguins experienced various highs and lows.

However, he acknowledged that consistently teetering on the playoff bubble is not an ideal situation. During a two-month stretch from mid-January to mid-March, the team struggled, resembling more of a “high lottery” team. This period, during which the Penguins went 9-15-3, contributed to their inability to secure a playoff berth. In light of these challenges, Dubas stressed the need for changes moving forward.

The Penguins are not embarking on a full-scale “rebuild” just yet, according to Dubas. Instead, he envisions a strategic “pivot,” characterized by a retooling process rather than a complete teardown of the team. He cited examples of successful turnarounds achieved by other NHL teams, such as the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, who maintained their core players while integrating younger talent to bolster their rosters.

Dubas highlighted several young players within the Penguins organization who have shown promise and could potentially step into more prominent roles next season. Names like P.O Joseph, Drew O’Connor, Sam Poulin, Vasily Ponomarev, and Jack St. Ivany were mentioned as individuals who have impressed in the AHL and could vie for NHL spots. Additionally, prospects Owen Pickering and Brayden Yager were identified as players with the potential to make an impact at the NHL level.

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In terms of goaltending, Dubas hinted at the possibility of getting younger in net, especially with veteran Jeff Carter retiring. While unrestricted free agent Alex Nedeljkovic has expressed interest in returning to the Penguins, Dubas noted that Joel Blomqvist’s strong performance in the AHL playoffs could influence the team’s goaltending decisions for the upcoming season.

Dubas emphasized the ongoing evaluation process regarding the team’s goaltending situation, particularly with the emergence of Joel Blomqvist as a potential contender. He mentioned that Blomqvist’s performance in the upcoming AHL playoffs would play a significant role in shaping the team’s goaltending strategy moving forward.

Reflecting on his notable acquisitions from the previous offseason, Dubas lauded Lars Eller for consistently meeting expectations and delivering on the team’s requirements. He also commended Noel Acciari for his contributions in a less glamorous role, highlighting his defensive prowess, versatility in various line combinations, and dedication to the team’s penalty-killing efforts.

Dubas defended Noel Acciari’s offensive output, emphasizing his defensive responsibilities and suggesting that given more offensive opportunities, Acciari could contribute more goals to the team, citing his previous season with Florida where he scored 20 goals.

Regarding Reilly Smith, Dubas acknowledged that Smith himself recognized his downturn in performance during exit interviews. However, Dubas noted that Smith showed improvement late in the season, particularly when playing alongside Lars Eller and Valtteri Puustinen on the third line, expressing optimism for a strong rebound from Smith in the upcoming season.

Addressing defenseman Ryan Graves, Dubas admitted that Graves fell short of expectations, emphasizing the need for him to focus on physical conditioning and mobility during the offseason to elevate his game. Dubas emphasized the organization’s commitment to supporting Graves in his development.

Reflecting on the Erik Karlsson trade, Dubas expressed satisfaction with the acquisition, noting Karlsson’s late-season resurgence where he demonstrated his value to the team with his skating, assertiveness, and improved shot selection. While acknowledging Karlsson’s struggles earlier in the season, Dubas highlighted his positive contributions towards the end of the campaign.

Dubas swiftly dismissed the notion of bringing in a separate general manager to work alongside him, citing potential redundancy and emphasizing the promotions and additions made within the hockey operations department. He highlighted individuals such as Jason Spezza, Vukie Mpofu, Andy Saucier, Erik Heasley, Doug Wilson, Amanda Kessel, and Tom Kostopoulos as valuable members of the staff who have shown promise for growth in their respective roles.

Regarding accountability for missing the playoffs, Dubas took responsibility for the team’s shortcomings, but indicated that evaluating personnel and systems is a shared responsibility between him and head coach Mike Sullivan. While Sullivan’s job appears secure, Dubas remained non-committal about the rest of the coaching staff.

Dubas described the current offseason as pivotal, as he and the players and staff engage in exit meetings to assess the season and inform decisions for the future. Amidst uncertainty, Dubas stressed the need for repositioning the team’s trajectory, acknowledging the need for change following a period of sustained contention.

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