Kyle Dubas and Kyle Davidson are in two different spots. Dubas takes over the Pittsburgh Penguins with a core of players who will be in the Hall of Fame. Davidson has the top overall pick to grab Connor Bedard.
How ironic, then, it is that Davidson’s Blackhawks beating Pittsburgh 5-2 in April brought Dubas to the Steel City?
With Dubas being named the president of hockey operations and currently the interim GM of the Penguins, he’s appearing to take one final shot at grabbing a Stanley Cup. But one look over at Davidson and the Chicago Blackhawks could be a vision of what could be versus what was when Stan Bowman wouldn’t make the tough decision.
We covered this in great detail last week with the Rebuild series where the 2017-18 season should have been a wakeup call.
Dubas’ situation is slightly different than Davidson. But the comparisons are tough to ignore.
Regardless, maybe it needs a closer look in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Expects To Make the Playoffs
So did Stan Bowman. So he traded players, shook it up, and vowed the team would be better. This was following a four-game sweep to the Nashville Predators, the same opponent who would fall to the Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Things only got worse from there. At the time, the core was aging, yet still on the relatively young side with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being 28. Brent Seabrook was 31 and Duncan Keith was 33. Marian Hossa was just about to walk away. While Kane and Toews still had some years to go, Seabrook and Keith were already on the wrong side of 30. All of the core had a lot of milage on it from deep runs in the playoffs in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Chicago had first round exits in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017.
In that same year when they won the Cup, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang were 29, 30 and 29 respectively.
Now they’re all six years older.
But Dubas was clear when he met with the media Thursday.
“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,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them, and go with them.”
If anyone was unsure as to how he would build, Dubas clarified.
“We need to build out the depth of the group and supplement the greatness that those people bring each day,” Dubas said. “I think there are some of those pieces that are already here, but in the next several weeks, we’ll get to work on more of that.”
So it appears that it’s playoffs or bust.
Davidson’s Dealings Can Be a Blueprint for Dubas
Davidson was along for the ride when Chicago avoided a rebuild and continued to try and make the playoffs, even after Bowman’s desperation moves during the 2021 offseason got him little in the way of success. It resulted in his coach getting fired, Davidson being elevated to interim after Bowman resigned, and a full rebuild being started. Lo and behold after a full-out tank in 2022-23, Chicago would win the Lottery.
Dubas heads into a similar situation that Chicago was in. An aging core with all of those members of the core having no-movement clauses. Beyond that, it’s not exactly easy to have the conversation with franchise legends about dealing them away.
Or with the fanbase that holds them in high esteem.
In many ways, Dubas is in a different predicament than Davidson. Bowman’s failures allowed for Davidson to strip everything down and essentially force those conversations. Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dave Molinari writes that Dubas plans on building around Crosby and the core. Perhaps ownership expects it, too.
But the biggest difference is that Dubas is the President of Hockey Operations, running the whole show sans owning the team. He spoke of how he would assess everything, and maybe he’ll take a harder look and realize that there could be a canary in the coal mine for the Penguins.
Rebuilds aren’t easy. They aren’t guaranteed to work. Sometimes some good luck speeds things up. Sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back—for years.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Blackhawks were in a similar spot, taking that final run at it. It took them two months into the season to change that philosophy.
Dubas took over as the general manager in Toronto once the hard part of the rebuild was passed. But he served as an assistant GM prior to that and saw how to build effectively. It’s not as if he doesn’t know what to do.
But some recent history in Chicago could help him make up his mind faster should he find things aren’t exactly as they seem in Pittsburgh.