Penguins name Maple Leafs' Wes Clark VP of player personnel: What it means for both teams

The Pittsburgh Penguins added to their hockey operations department Tuesday, announcing the hiring of Wes Clark as vice president of player personnel. It is a new position under Kyle Dubas, who was hired last summer as president of hockey and later assumed the role of general manager.

Clark will preside over amateur and professional scouting, college and European free-agent scouting and will report to Dubas.

Clark was with the Toronto Maple Leafs in various capacities over the previous six seasons. He ran the Maple Leafs’ drafts as director of player personnel from 2023-24, and previously served as director of amateur scouting, assistant director of player personnel and development, and also as a player evaluation consultant.

Though granted full autonomy on hockey matters by Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Penguins, Dubas has slowly remade hockey operations. He has promoted personnel that served under previous management, while also adding Vickie Mpofu (directory of hockey operations and legal affairs, Trent Mann (player development and scouting advisor), and former San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson (senior advisor).

“Starting last fall with the addition of Trent Mann as a player development and scouting advisor and the elevation of Andy Saucier to lead our pro scouting department, we have sought to really bolster our player personnel system,” Dubas said in a statement. “Our personnel decisions in this short term will be critical as we seek to add the draft picks, prospects and young players that will serve to add an infusion of young, hungry players to our core.

“By adding Wes to lead the departments directed by Nick Pryor and Andy, along with the valuable experience and wisdom that Trent provides, we have tried to put the Penguins in a strong position to go out and execute on our personnel strategy in the short and long run. Having worked with Wes for many years, I have a deep trust in his ability to identify talent, lead staffs, advance our scouting process and methods, learn from mistakes to improve processes and to challenge my own thinking and planning on a near-daily basis.”

In May, the Penguins fired more than 20 staffers from their business operations. No cuts were made to hockey operations.

What this means for the Maple Leafs

This hiring is not a huge surprise. Wes Clark worked for Dubas back when Dubas was still running the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. When Dubas became GM of the Leafs, he brought Clark into the organization and eventually made him the head of amateur scouting. Clark earned fans within the team for nabbing potential NHLers Fraser Minten in 2022 and Easton Cowan in 2023. He just led the 2024 NHL Draft that saw the Leafs pick Ben Danford at the end of the first round. His departure means the Leafs will need someone new to oversee their amateur scouting operation.

Dubas was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and grew up around the Greyhounds, for whom his late grandfather coached from 1960-67. Dubas was GM of the Greyhounds from 2011-14 before he joined the Maple Leafs.

Clark is not the first person with Maple Leafs ties to join Dubas in Pittsburgh. Assistant general manager Jason Spezza served as assistant to the GM under Dubas.

What this mean for the Penguins

Clark brings veteran experience to an area that Dubas has emphasized recently: acquiring assets. Though he has resisted using phrases such as “rebuild” or “retool,” Dubas’ moves to date this offseason indicate the once always-all-in Penguins are focusing as much on their future as their present.

The Penguins took on veteran forward Kevin Hayes in a trade at the NHL Draft, essentially so they could add land a future second-round pick. As for free-agent signings, Dubas has opted for one- or two-year contracts with depth players after giving longer terms last summer to retain goalie Tristan Jarry, sign defensemen Ryan Graves and forward Noel Acciari, and acquire Erik Karlsson in a high-profile trade.

Those moves did not help the Penguins return to the playoffs. They have missed out on the last two postseasons after qualifying for a salary-cap-era record 16 consecutive playoffs.

The Penguins project to have around $3.5 million in cap space, as charted by PuckPedia. They have not replaced winger Jake Guentzel, who was captain Sidney Crosby’s longtime linemate and dealt at the most recent trade deadline.

To acquire a winger of stature to pair with Crosby and Bryan Rust on the top line, Dubas would likely need to trade a current roster player. But many of the Penguins veterans have contractual clauses that limit Dubas’ maneuverability.

Even while tinkering around the edges with the current roster, Dubas is focused on ownership’s top priority — securing a new contract with Crosby. As reported by The Athletic on Monday, the Penguins and Crosby are closing in on a deal that will keep him in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. Crosby has repeatedly said he wants to retire with the franchise that drafted him first overall in 2005.

(Photo: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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