Paul Zeise: Kyle Dubas is absolutely the right man to lead Penguins into period of transition

Tribune Content Agency

PITTSBURGH — The Penguins had to wait a few extra days to get their man, but in the end they got him and that’s all that matters. Kyle Dubas was named the Penguins’ president of hockey operations Wednesday, and that means he will be a lot more than just the general manager.

And that bodes well for the future, both short-term and long-term, because Dubas is exactly what the doctor ordered for what has ailed the Penguins in recent years. The organization has grown stale. It has relied too much on old-school hockey types like Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. And it has fallen behind in some critical areas in terms of understanding the NHL and how it has changed.

Dubas, who was most recently the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, comes to Pittsburgh with a reputation as a young, hungry, cutting-edge visionary who understands analytics and how they can shape an organization. He made bold moves in Toronto, was good at manipulating roster rules and wasn’t afraid to be bold as he built the Maple Leafs into a Stanley Cup contender,

“But the Maple Leafs never won a Stanley Cup under Dubas, so he is just another underachiever!!

That’s about the only criticism I have heard of the Penguins’ hiring of Dubas. And anyone who uses that line of logic to try and discredit the hiring has a lack of basic understanding about how sports work and how many variables come into play when it comes to winning championships.

Dubas is 37 years old, and he was named the Maple Leafs general manager in 2018. He did the job for five seasons and the Maple Leafs made the playoffs every season. It is true they didn’t advance in the playoffs before this season, but they were clearly good enough the last two years to win the Stanley Cup. There were multiple reasons they haven’t advanced, but the truth is he built an excellent roster that is probably one or two key moves from being a favorite to win it all.

And unlike the Penguins, who have won five Stanley Cups in the last 32 years, the Maple Leafs aren’t exactly an organization that demands and expects winning. Toronto’s last Stanley Cup was in 1967 and its fans have suffered through a lot of bad management and bad roster decisions since then. Dubas at least had the roster stable and in position to win at a high level over the next few seasons.

That’s why the “underachieved” stuff just isn’t fair when it comes to the job he did in Toronto. He went to a bad organization and brought stability and did a good job of building a roster that makes winning sustainable over the next few seasons.

As for what he might do for the Penguins, I would say the first thing is bring a new set of objective eyes to the roster and the coaching staff. I know he committed to Mike Sullivan at his news conference, but he didn’t hire Sullivan and I am sure Dubas will have the ability to move in a different direction if Sullivan doesn’t alter his philosophy some and adapt his desired style.

It sounds like Sullivan and Dubas will work together on the roster, which is OK but not ideal. It might mean some of the decision making is going to be influenced by a coach who seemingly is not flexible when it comes to the kind of roster he wants. That, however, remains to be seen and maybe it will work out well, as Dubas is sharp and understands how to build a team.

The larger issues for Dubas will be the roster, especially the goalie. It has very little salary cap flexibility and far too many players who have no-movement clauses. The three aging superstars are clearly not going anywhere, either. That means Dubas has a mess to clean up and not a lot of time to do it as the window for the superstars to win at a high level is closing fast (and might already be closed).

Dubas is going to be asked to win now and build for later, and that is never easy to do. He is going to be asked to build a supporting cast and find defensive help without a lot of salary cap space to do it. He is going to be asked to shore up the goalie position, either by signing Tristan Jarry or finding an adequate replacement.

In other words, this isn’t going to be an easy job. And it isn’t going to be a job that can be done without stepping on some toes.

That’s why Dubas feels like the perfect hire, as it requires someone young, energetic, smart and bold, and he is and has been all of those things during his time in the Maple Leafs’ front office. Dubas will be a success because he will help guide the Penguins through this coming transition from the Crosby-Malkin-Letang era to whatever is next, and that really is the most important part of his job at this stage.