Kyle Dubas is selling but the Penguins and Maple Leafs don’t seem like a match

Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
1 month ago
The Pittsburgh Penguins have not met expectations this season and find themselves on the outside looking in at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture. Old friend Kyle Dubas will be tested ahead of his first trade deadline as the Penguins’ President/GM looks to get creative to re-tool on the fly, get younger, and somehow get better for next season.
According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Dubas is open to trade talks on anyone outside the all-star core of the Pens. So cross Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin off the list, and Tristan Jarry and Erik Karlsson likely make the cut as well.
The biggest trade asset Dubas has at the moment is pending free-agent forward Jake Guentzel, even though Guentzel is currently injured and isn’t expected to be available until shortly after the March 8 trade deadline. He’s a prolific top-line winger who has a decorated resume of playoff success, he’s used to playing with Crosby which is way harder than you think and even though he could be a pure rental for a contending team, the trade offers will be flying into Dubas’ office.
Guentzel is owed $6 million against the cap this season, he owns a 12-team no-trade list and has registered 22 goals and 52 points in 50 games. The fan base in Pittsburgh would love to see Guentzel stick around long term, however contract talks have gotten nowhere since last summer. Dubas recently spoke about Guentzel’s future and had this to say:
I understand how valuable (Guentzel) has been as a teammate. … But at the same time, we have to take stock of where we’re at and be realistic about the fact that one of the issues we have is we need to get younger. We have a lot of guys in their 30s signed – some of them are some of the best players in the history of the franchise. It’s tough with Jake – as I’ve said to him – because he’s an excellent player and playing at an elite level.
Pittsburgh enters Saturday’s action seven points out of the second wild card spot and has to leapfrog the Capitals, Islanders and Devils before then catching either the Lightning or Red Wings. The ship has sailed and now the trade-happy Dubas will get to work.

Guentzel’s The Top Dog Among Several Trade Candidates

The Guentzel market is hot and rightfully so, expect to see the Oilers, Avalanche, Canucks and Golden Knights hold advanced talks with Dubas the next week or so. But he’s not the only one expected to be dealt.
Reilly Smith is a prime trade candidate. Dubas traded a a 2024 third-round pick for Smith back in June and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out as everyone hoped. Smith hasn’t meshed well with Malkin on the team’s second line and has collected just 10 goals and 23 points in 48 games. He has one more season left on his contract at $5 million against the cap and owns a 10-team no-trade clause, which will protect him from the bottom feeders. With Mark Stone out long term in Vegas, it feels like one of Guentzel or Smith will end up with the Golden Knights.
Veteran centre Lars Eller could draw some trade interest from contenders. He’s a veteran centre who has a wealth of playoff experience and at $2.45 million AAV, could be an affordable option for some. 10 goals in 54 games, very reasonable, and Eller can kill penalties effectively and wins 54% of his faceoffs. Pittsburgh PK ranks 7th in the NHL this season, and has not been one of their issues, thanks to Eller and and another familiar face Noel Acciari. The power play on the other hand is a touchy subject and one of the biggest reasons why the Penguins won’t make the playoffs.
Backup netminder Alex Nedeljkovic is another Penguin who could be on the move. He’s had a strong season, his first in Pittsburgh and with a reasonable cap hit of $1.5 million, will be on the radar of onlooking contending teams with interest in finding depth for their crease. Nedeljkovic has posted an impressive 9-4-4 record to go along with a 2.67 GAA and .915 Sv.%. The Avalanche, Devils, Kings, and Hurricanes could be suitors for the 28-year-old netminder.
Bryan Rust is more of a longshot to be moved, just based on his full no-movement clause (NMC). Rust was signed by Ron Hextall before Dubas took over and owns a NMC this year and next. He’s signed through the 2027-28 season at $5.12 million AAV and so far in 41 games has scored 16 times and added 17 assists. The cap hit will be hard to navigate.

Penguins Have Untouchables & Untradeables

The market for veteran forward Jeff Carter is nonexistent. Moving Rickard Rakell will be near impossible. Rakell has just five goals in 42 games and is under contract through 2027-28, making $5 million per season. Another huge contract signed by Hextall before he was shown the door.
That brings us to the elephant in the room, and his name is Karlsson. Dubas got hot and bothered shortly after taken over the Penguins and completed a blockbuster deal to land the reigning Norris Trophy winner. He got the Sharks to retain some money and even then, still has Karlsson on the books through 2026-27 at a $10 million cap hit. Have I mentioned the Penguins power play is ranked 30th in the league and is the main reason why they will miss the playoffs. Some food for thought, Karlsson plays an average of 3:51 on the PP each game, that’s almost two minutes more than Letang and the next closest is Marcus Pettersson at 13 seconds per game.
The ‘Karlsson Experiment’ hasn’t worked and Dubas now has his hands tied trying to figure out how to move forward with his hockey team. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek recently spoke about the Karlsson situation and reiterated that Dubas sees Karlsson among the core four. However, they also mentioned if he does get moved, the Ottawa Senators could make a ton of sense given his history with the team and close relationship with assistant coach Daniel Alfredsson. The Sens and their new management regime are expected to be active ahead of the deadline, however these talks could carry over into the summer months.

Maple Leafs & Penguins Very Unlikely Partners

Don’t expect to see Brad Treliving and Dubas meeting in the middle on any trade talks. While Dubas does know the Leafs organizational cupboards better than anyone, it would be a complete long shot to see them doing business together.
Treliving is looking for a right-handed defenseman who can play top-four minutes and one of Karlsson or Kris Letang aren’t ending up in blue and white. Eller is somewhat appealing, however with Pontus Holmberg and David Kampf in the picture and John Tavares the new third-line centre, Eller doesn’t fit. Accairi? Plays tough but Treliving will pass thanks to an overpriced contract. Guentzel would look awfully nice with Matthews and Marner, but given the cap hit and pure rental scenario, not someone Treliving sells the farm for or can even fit in for that matter.
Dubas is looking to right the ship and build some momentum for next season. Year one has not gone to plan and frankly the Penguins are a mess. Expensive veterans who are underperforming, limited cap space and a prospect chain that’s been depleted for years. Makes you wonder if Dubas ever has second thoughts about how he handled the end of last season.

Check out these posts...