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Dubas Stuns NHL Free Agency With New Additions

Updated: Jul 11, 2023


Courtesy of Paul Sancya (AP Photo)


It is no secret that in the off-season, the National Hockey League (NHL) General Managers tend to shift their focus on trying to find ways to improve their team’s roster for the better. One way general managers address their roster needs is through the NHL Free Agency.


The free agency market opened up on July 1, 2023, and general managers began loading up on the best available unrestricted free agents (UFA’s). In the leading days of free agency, the NHL saw a total of over 230 signings, according to Cap Friendly.


Although that is the case, there were general managers, including Kyle Dubas, president of hockey operations and interim general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had to work around the issues of carrying limited cap space when making those deals. Dubas, before and after the free agent frenzy, had signed 13 UFA’s as new additions and re-signed starting goaltender Tristan Jarry, while also trading for forward Reilly Smith, recent Stanley Cup Champion from the Las Vegas Golden Knights.


Dubas’s New Additions & Who’s Gone

The Penguins tweeted out about the new acquisitions that Dubas brought in and can be found on Twitter and in an article on the Penguins website. Penguin’s twitter shared more signings as the Free Agency went on after this tweet and article was already published.


Forwards

Reilly Smith (traded for a 2023 NHL Draft pick)

Noel Acciari (three-year contract with average of $2 million)

Lars Eller (two-year contract with average of $2.45 million)

Matt Nieto (two-year contract with average of $900,000)

Radim Zohorna (one-year contract with average of $775,000)

Marc Johnstone (two-year contract with average of $775,000)

Joona Koppanen (two-year contract with average of $775,000)

Vinnie Hinostroza (one-year contract with average of $775,000)

Andreas Johnsson (one-year contract with average of $800,000)


Defensemen

Ryan Graves (six-year contract with average of $4.5 million)

Ryan Shea (one-year contract with average of $775,000)

Will Butcher (one-year contract with average of $775,000)


Goaltenders

Tristan Jarry (re-signed; five-year contract with average of $5.375 million)

Alex Nedeljkovic (one-year contract with average of $1.5 million)

Magnus Hellberg (one-year contract with average of $785,000)


Penguins Who Got Picked Up in Free Agency

F Jason Zucker (Arizona Coyotes)

F Ryan Poehling (Philadelphia Flyers)

F Nick Bonino (New York Rangers)

F Josh Archibald (Tampa Bay Lightning)

F Dmitry Kulikov (Florida Panthers)

D Brian Dumoulin (Seattle Kraken)

G Dustin Tokarski (Buffalo Sabres)

Forward Drew O’ Connor filed for arbitration and forward Danton Heinen remains an unrestricted free agent.


My Thoughts on Dubas’s Moves

July 1, 2023 was a whirlwind for NHL fans and myself, as a Penguins fan, as the free agent signings went through. All throughout the day, I continued to receive notifications from the Penguin’s social media accounts, specifically Twitter, as Dubas announced who he signed.


I was shocked when I saw who Dubas had signed. It is interesting to see Dubas already filling up the much needed positions the Penguins were looking for after not making the playoffs last season, the first time this happened in the past 16 years.

Courtesy of Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)


Knowing where the Penguins left things at the end of April, it was evident that they needed to fix their defense, goaltending situation and the bottom six lines before the start of training camp in late August of this year.


Dubas took care of the goaltending situation by signing both Nedeljkovic and Hellberg all while signing Jarry. All three goaltenders, including Casey DeSmith, will bring a lot of positives to the Penguins next season. I personally feel that head coach, Mike Sullivan, and the rest of the coaching staff will eventually start Jarry and DeSmith as the goaltender tandem. That leaves both Nedeljkovic and Hellberg to find time playing on the Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins team of the American Hockey League (AHL), but with Nedeljkovic’s stats with the Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings, he could certainly see playing time.


Although that could be the case, I think that signing Jarry long-term for five years is a bit risky as he has dealt with nagging injuries, specifically to the upper and lower body, though it has not been released as to what exactly his injury was in the past few seasons. With that being said though, Jarry last season, had an up and down year where he excelled in goal while healthy, but fell off in stats when his injuries had sidelined him.

Courtesy of Michael Miller


Jarry, in 47 games played last season, put up a 24-14-7 record, with a 2.9 GAA, and a .909 SV%. His experience, plus his two All-Star selections, and strong gameplay when healthy proves he can be the starting goaltender he was always projected to be. I truly believe that if he stays healthy, he will be the goaltender that the Penguins need to make the playoffs next season.


Dubas believes that having all these goaltenders will keep them at their very best. He agrees with that by saying, “We just felt that was the best bet to make for our club at this time. I think the competition is an important thing for the group as well, in addition to pushing Tristan and showing that we have suitable people there."


The defensemen situation has improved but is definitely not where it should be. Losing a top defender and pair to Kris Letang is hard to replace, but I think with Dubas bringing in a guy like Graves, the top unit on defense will be more powerful while being on the ice with the likes of captain Sidney Crosby and linemates Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel.

Courtesy of Ed Mulholland (USA TODAY Sports)


Graves, who makes the team just

a little bit younger, could be the guy to replace Dumoulin, but he could also see playing time alongside defender, Jeff Petry, someone who Dubas has said to be a big part of the Penguins in the new season. Graves is currently listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, so he brings a substantial amount of size that the Penguins hadn’t had before. He is coming off an impressive season last year with the New Jersey Devils, recording eight goals and a plus-34 rating in 78 games.

Dubas has finally figured out the top and bottom six of the forward core, something that former General Manager, Ron Hextall, couldn’t accomplish. By adding Smith, Dubas has found the last piece to accompany forward Evgeni Malkin’s line. Nieto was a great signing as he can bring that level of offense the Penguins are looking for while being great with speed.

Courtesy of John Locher (AP Photo)


It has been reported by Dubas that Eller will probably fill the third-line center role. I am totally okay with that possibility, as the likes of forward Jeff Carter and Mikael Granlund tread slowly in the wrong direction. I still do not know how they are still on the team with their underwhelming seasons last year. Acciari brings a level of toughness to any line, so I can not wait to see what he does on what line the Penguins end up putting him at.


Free Agents Dubas Should Have Went For

There were lots of players listed as UFA’s that Dubas should have taken a closer look at, in my opinion. One of them who Dubas could have paid more attention to was forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bertuzzi had an impressive season with the Boston Bruins in a season that gave Bruins fans hope they’d make it all of the way to the Stanley Cup Final and win. The other player who turned heads was forward Michael Bunting. Bunting brought the momentum to the Maple Leafs last year while playing alongside superstar players such as Austin Matthews and Mitchell Marner. He hopes to continue that momentum with the Carolina Hurricanes.


Penguins Look Good & Ready for Training Camp

In all transparency, I am extremely happy with everything that Dubas has done since the NHL Draft. He has fulfilled the needs that the Penguins were craving to be the best team possible going into next season. With these signings, he is giving players an opportunity to play on a well organized team with even better players.


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