Could a reunion with Kyle Dubas in Pittsburgh be the best option for Ilya Mikheyev?

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
20 days ago
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Folks, there has been an awful lot of discussion surrounding one Ilya Mikheyev in the early goings of the 2024 offseason. And, as you can plainly see from the headline above, we’ve got more on the way.
But much of the initial chatter has been around general solutions toward Mikheyev and the discrepancy between his performance and salary. There’s been talk of a buyout, of  a trade with retention, or perhaps an unretained trade with some sort of sweetener attached.
But what has perhaps been missing in all this is a discussion of specific solutions. Buyouts are a one-party endeavour. But any trade would require a trade partner, and that obviously requires some level of selection from the 31 options available.
Fortunately, we think we’ve narrowed down one trade target for Mikheyev in particular, and it’s even more specific than the name of another NHL franchise. It’s the name of a person. And that person is Kyle Dubas.
Though many still automatically associate him with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dubas has been in charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins since last summer. As a general manager, Dubas is known for a few traits, and one of those traits is loyalty to players he’s had in his system before.
Dubas famously grew up in the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds organization. His father worked for the team, and before that his grandfather coached it. Dubas became a scout for the Greyhounds in 2002 at the age of 17, and took over as their GM in 2011.
By 2014, Dubas was the Assistant General Manager for the Maple Leafs, and by 2015 he’d be the GM, and he’d stay in that role in 2023.
During that time, Dubas became notorious for bringing ex-Greyhounds to Toronto. He hired Sheldon Keefe to coach the Marlies and then the Maple Leafs, after having previously hired Keefe in the Sault. Several other coaches followed.
Ex-Greyhound players brought in by Dubas included Rasmus Sandin, Jake Muzzin, Jack Campbell, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Bunting, Nick Ritchie, and Matt Murray.
Which is all good evidence that Dubas likes his retreads. It’s also good evidence that the retreads in question don’t necessarily need to be of a high quality.
Since taking over the Penguins, Dubas has only had a year to work with, but even in that limited time he’s brought in some former charges. He signed Noel Acciari in the summer, someone he’d acquired in Toronto at the previous deadline. And then at the 2024 Trade Deadline, Dubas traded for Bunting again as part of the Jake Guentzel deal.
This marked the third time Dubas had acquired Bunting; once through the OHL draft, once through free agency in Toronto, and once through trade in Pittsburgh.
Let’s zoom in on Bunting for a second. In the 2023 offseason, he’d left a suddenly Dubas-less Toronto to sign a three-year, $4.5 million AAV contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. And then he immediately turned in the worst season of his career, posting 13 goals and 36 points through 60 games.
Dubas didn’t seem to care. He traded for Bunting (and his two full remaining contract years) all the same, and was rewarded for his loyalty. Bunting went on to post 19 points in 21 games for the Penguins post-deadline.
By now, those without a working knowledge of Kyle Dubas’ transaction history might be wondering what this all has to do with Ilya Mikheyev. We’re getting to that now.
Mikheyev went undrafted in the NHL Entry Draft, and began a career back in Russia, coming up through the Avangard Omsk organization. He developed well enough in that league, but never posted any truly eye-popping numbers, topping out at 23 goals and 45 points through 62 games at the age of 24 in 2018/19.
Then Dubas came calling. The then-Maple Leafs GM scouted Mikheyev, courted him, and then signed him to a one-year ELC in May of 2019.
Dubas brought Mikheyev in right away, and Mikheyev impressed in his rookie campaign, notching 23 points in just 39 games. Dubas rewarded Mikheyev with a two-year extension at a $1.645 million average despite the limited experience, and Mikheyev rewarded Dubas in turn with two years of strong performance, hampered only by injury.
Mikheyev would pot 21 goals and 32 points in 53 games in the 2021/22 season, and then add four more points in seven playoff games.
Then, in the summer of 2022, he left for the greener pastures of Vancouver and a four-year, $4.75 million AAV contract via free agency.
Now, he’s on the market again. All of which leads us to our overall point here, which is that if there’s anyone out there itching to acquire Mikheyev, it’s probably Dubas, the GM who both loves his retreads and who first showed real interest in Mikheyev.
Dubas’ Penguins are a team in an interesting place. They’re still built around the 36-year-old Sidney Crosby and the 37-year-old Evgeni Malkin up front, but their collection of wingers leaves an awful lot to be desired, especially after having traded Guentzel.
Bryan Rust and the aforementioned Bunting are probably the best they’ve got. Beyond them, it’s a collection of heavy question marks in the form of Rickard Rakell, Reilly Smith, Drew O’Connor, and Jesse Puljujarvi.
The Penguins are at the point where most franchises would enter a rebuild. But they simply cannot, not until Crosby and the Gang have moved on to retirement. So, Dubas and Co. will still be doing their best to compete over the next couple of years, and they’ll be bringing in veterans to do so.
Enter: Mikheyev.
If there’s one thing that collection of wingers above is lacking, it’s speed. That’s a downright plodding collection of wingers.
What is Mikheyev’s number one trait? Prior to ACL surgery, it was speed. And perhaps after a full offseason of recovery, it will be speed again.
Dubas and the Penguins aren’t exactly flush with cap space, but they’re not too short on it, either. As of this writing, they’ve got 10 forwards, five defenders, and a goalie signed for about $74.7 million, leaving them a little more than $12 million to fill out about seven more players.
The Penguins could always choose to supplement their roster through other means, like free agency. But it’s often hard to bring someone in via free agency without giving them excessive term, as the Canucks discovered with Mikheyev in the first place. Perhaps to Dubas, the fact that Mikheyev only has two years left on his deal is seen as an asset, as that’s about the amount of time we can expect Crosby and Malkin to keep playing.
After that, it’s rebuild time, and having the vets out of the way is a good thing.
So, to recap: Mikheyev is a Dubas retread, he offers the position and skillset that Dubas needs most this offseason, and he’s available for extremely cheap – probably outright free, if Dubas is willing to take on his full salary.
Alternately, retention could take place, and at that point, maybe we’re talking about receiving an actual return from Pittsburgh in exchange.
Either way, this looks like the best route through which to find Mikheyev a new home this summer. As such, we’d expect Patrik Allvin to be placing a call to Dubas in the very near future…that is, if Dubas hasn’t already called himself, once again on the hunt for another of the ones who got away.
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