Penguins offseason: Latest on Erik Karlsson, Kyle Dubas’ moves and more

I like to go back to the old 10 observations a few times during the summer to keep them updated for the next year. Think of it as a writers’ training camp.

Here are my thoughts on what Kyle Dubas has been up to so far, Erik Karlsson, where do the penguins go from here and more.

• Ryan Graves signing is a big deal.

The Penguins have many questions on their blue line, namely whether Pierre-Olivier Joseph will play 82 games and whether Ty Smith will find out life in the NHL.

Now there’s only room for one of them in the lineup. Maybe that’s a good thing. You can compete for third place on the left side of the blue line, may the best man win.

Meanwhile, the Penguins employ a pair of tall, stable, defensive-minded defenders in their 20s in Graves and Pettersson. Graves is a dramatic step up from 2023’s Brian Dumoulin. Not only is he good, but he’s thrived on offensive teams in Colorado and New Jersey. That immediately makes the top 4 better, Karlsson or not. That also means that five of the first six places are all but certain. On the right are the Penguins fielding Kris Letang, Jeff Petry (or Karlsson) and Jan Rutta. On the left they have Graves and Pettersson while Smith and Joseph are fighting for the minutes of the third pairing. Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman will be extras.

Graves makes the Penguins bigger and better, but also makes a lot of roles on the blue line pretty clear.

If the Penguins don’t sign Karlsson, remember that Petry and Pettersson make a pretty good couple.

• If the Penguins take over Karlsson, I wouldn’t worry about Letang’s feelings being hurt.

A decade ago? Yes, that might have been a different story. But Letang is a different man now. He wants to win. If the Penguins take over Karlsson, Letang will almost certainly relinquish his spot as quarterback on the power play. He’s smart enough to know that Karlsson can do some things better than him and that he can do some things better than Karlsson.

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I honestly think he’ll be fine with it. The penguins did it right for him. His contract runs for five more years. As of this writing, all he wants is more championships and would almost certainly welcome Karlsson with open arms.

• Everything is quiet as far as Karlsson is concerned.

I can tell you the penguins are still very interested. Something could happen quickly, or it could drag on all summer. Dubas has identified Karlsson as the kind of differentiator that can make the penguins a factor in the East. Anyone who watched last season knows this team needs a spark. The signings Dubas made this summer will do them somewhat better, but if you go all-in to be a contender, you get Karlsson. Dubas knows.

• Some things never change.

To be a playoff team, the Penguins in their current form need Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to be as productive as they were last season. can you do it Secure. Is that a lot to ask considering Malkin will soon be 37 and Crosby will be 36? Yes, it is. I never bet against them, but they will wear off eventually, and we’ve already seen some regression with Malkin. Even Crosby seemed (understandably) tired in the final month of the season. It’s a matter of timing. A depth rating would really help. Or just get Karlsson who makes everyone’s job easier when it comes to scoring goals.

• In October Tristan Jarry will be in the spotlight and it will be really special.

If I had a dime for every time I hear someone say, “I love every move Dubas made except that damn Jarry contract,” I’d be building a house right now in Hawaii.

I have no idea how Jarry will handle the pressure. Given his post-season track record, it’s easy to tell he doesn’t handle pressure well. But then, after his disastrous 2021 postseason, he was enjoying the best season of his career until a broken foot threw him off balance.

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• Penguins goalkeeping coach Andy Chiodo believes in Jarry. I think Mike Sullivan is too.

I didn’t feel Sullivan was overly amused that Jarry had been so transparent with the media about his health issues last season. Coaches hate that. But in the end I think the coaching staff was very much behind him – hopefully that back feels better – when Dubas asked the tough questions about him.

• Was last season an exception for Bryan Rust?

Or will it slowly decay? He turned 31 in May. It’s a cause for concern.

Rust has been a key player for the Penguins for almost a decade. He plays exactly how Sullivan wants his players to play. He is fast. He is fearless. He is clutch. He can be crucial in a top six or a bottom six role. He’s good on the power play. He’s pretty good at penalties.

When he’s at his best, he brings tremendous value. But he also looked a bit slow last season. Something was wrong. He is very important for the future.

Only a handful of players from the Stanley Cup years remain: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Letang, Jake Guentzel and… Rust.

• Speaking of Guentzel: The Penguins are free to bind him to a new contract at any time. He still has one year left and will be 29 in October.

I can tell you that Dubas and Guentzel’s agent, Ben Hankinson, are on good terms. I can tell you the Big Three want Güntzel back for good. I have no reason to believe that Guentzel does not want to stay in Pittsburgh, and I have no reason to believe that Dubas does not want to keep him.

I would be surprised if there isn’t a deal in the next few months. No talks had taken place as of early July, but given how busy Dubas is at the moment, that comes as no shock.

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• You may think this is important, but you may not.

But the Penguins staff love Dubas. The environment has returned to the warm, family-oriented feel that was pervasive in the Jim Rutherford regime. This should lead to other very successful people wanting to work in Pittsburgh in the years to come.

• If you’re really bored and miss hockey, look at a blank slate of the 2023-24 season NHL standings.

If you’re a Penguins fan, this might be a scary experience. The Eastern Conference is staggeringly good. Maybe like never before.

Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Carolina and New Jersey are the top five teams in the East on paper by most estimates. And they are really good.

Then consider that while Rangers may suddenly be old as a forward, they are extremely talented and have a goaltender capable of stealing any playoff series.

Then there’s Florida, the team that reached the finals last season. I have no idea what to think of the Panthers’ progression, but they don’t stink.

We have already completed seven teams. Realistically, do you think the Penguins are better than either of these teams?

The islanders never go away. The Capitals are quietly having a good summer and won’t necessarily fade into the night. Buffalo is on the rise and could be a lot better this season. Ditto for Ottawa. Detroit is not far behind. Columbus is a joker but is trying to win now.

I imagine the Flyers and Canadiens won’t be good, but they won’t be total disasters either.

That’s it. This is the east. It’s frighteningly good. You’ll have a hard time picking eight Western Conference teams that deserve a playoff spot. In the east, you could pick 12 teams that could well be playoff-worthy.

Where do the penguins fit into this mess? I have no idea, but I wish their chances of reaching the postseason — and wreaking havoc there — are a lot better with the number 65 on their roster.

(Photo by Erik Karlsson: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)


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