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Penguins Perspectives: The Dubas days of summer

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Monday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The Penguins made one of the biggest splashes of this offseason on Thursday. 

Thursday morning, following weeks of conflicting insider rumors, fan theories, and so much more - it was official. Kyle Dubas hired as president of hockey operations. 

Nearly two weeks after the Toronto Maple Leafs made the stunning decision to part ways with the 37-year-old as their general manager. 

Dubas certainly didn't appear to want to leave - "It's Toronto or nowhere" and "you won't see me popping up somewhere next week" were both said during his postseason media conference, just days following a second-round exit. 

However, that was said after it appeared the team and Dubas were all but certain to agree to a new contract, as Dubas's contract with the Leafs expired on July 1. 

Just a few days later, however, Brendan Shanahan, Toronto's President of Hockey Operations, stunned the hockey world and announced Dubas would not be returning, making Dubas suddenly the most coveted "free agent" of the 2023 offseason. 

Now that you know (most of) the backstory, let's get into it what it means for the Penguins. 

It had to be Dubas, it just had to be. 

The Penguins' former ownership, the Lemieux Group, for all the good they did with the likes of Craig Patrick, Ray Shero, and Jim Rutherford, overcorrected in 2021 when they announced the hiring of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. 

The freewheeling, future-be-damned style of Rutherford got to be taxing by the end, even if it did result in back-to-back Stanley Cups. 

Trading away locker room favorites, fan favorites, productive players, all because of a couple of down weeks, or overcorrecting to Tom Wilson throwing dirty hits - it was time to go in a different direction. 

That direction led to two executives who had a vision for the franchise that was about as clear as mud. 

We've gone over and over about what Hextall's time in Pittsburgh was and you can read that here: Penguins Perspectives: Don't Look Up

In the 50-plus years of Penguins' history, the franchise is at its best when they're being bold, when the stars shine brightest, and when the head of hockey operations is willing to take some big swings. 

Think John Cullen and Zarley Zalapsky to Hartford for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Grant Jennings. 

Think Mark Recchi for Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson, and Ron Tugnutt. 

Think Phil Kessel coming to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster. Think, even if it didn't work as planned, Derick Brassard as a third-line center when looking for a third straight Stanley Cup.

I could go on and on, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are a franchise that since the late 1980s has been built on high-end skill, bold decisions from management, and not succumbing to the NHL's sprint to safety and risk aversion. 

For Fenway Sports Group, their first hire hit all the correct notes. 

Since taking over for Hall of Famer Lou Lamorello, Kyle Dubas has been anything but safe with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

He locked up their "core four" in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, and went out and signed the fourth member in free agency - John Tavares. 

He swung trades and signings to bring the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Mark Giordano, and others to supplant their big names. 

Given the current state of the Penguins franchise, it was exactly who they needed. Especially considering, as I've written plenty of times, the end of Crosby-Malkin-Letang is a lot closer than the beginning. 

What Dubas said at his introductory press conference stood out as significant to me. 

"I see this task ahead of us as a two-pronged effort. In the short run, it's continuing to make decisions that are going to allow the team to be competitive while the core group of players that have led the team the championships in the past continue to perform at the levels they have for as long as they can. At the same time, the work will also begin at delivering a long-term hockey organization that can be the class of the NHL and to reduce any gap in time that there otherwise would be from the end of those great players' careers to the next era of great hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins."

While, yes, Hextall and Burke were given a similar mandate of "win now, plan for the future" their plan was either nonexistent or top secret. There were no real coherent moves other than not trading this upcoming draft's first-round pick. 

As Dubas spoke for around 30 minutes inside PPG Paints Arena on Thursday, you could see a plan for the near term and the long term. To win a Stanley Cup, or at least compete for one, in the twilight of the Penguins' golden age and make sure that the team isn't plunged into a decade of darkness once 87, 71, and 58 are retired and their numbers hang in the rafters. 

Having a 37-year-old president of hockey operations who, by all accounts, did everything right in arguably the toughest hockey market in Toronto, and fall short for reasons out of his control, it's a breath of fresh air for the Penguins. 

Dubas is forward-thinking, will take risks, and has a knack for finding players that otherwise get passed over. He helped bring Toronto, a team with seemingly unlimited resources, into the 21st century with sports science, training, public relations, nutrition, analytics, and so much more. 

Now, with Fenway Sports Group giving him a shot to do it with more control, the Penguins suddenly go from rudderless to refocused. 

"The way I view it, is that if people want to bet against Mike Sullivan, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and others? They can go ahead and do so. But I'm going to bet on them." 

Dubas has made his bet and so has Fenway Sports Group. 

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