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Disgusted GM Rutherford ‘sick’ about Penguins’ season | TribLIVE.com
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Disgusted GM Rutherford ‘sick’ about Penguins’ season

ptrrutherford05042915
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford speaks to the media during a news conference Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at Consol Energy Center.
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin plays against the Wild during a November 2015 game at Consol Energy Center.
ptrrutherford05042915
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford speaks to the media during a news conference Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at Consol Energy Center.
ptrmalkin071204151
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin plays against the Wild during a November 2015 game at Consol Energy Center.

Jim Rutherford is disgusted.

The five-game losing streak his team is on, the coaching change he had to make, the fact a roster he constructed to be an offensive force is among the dregs of the league in scoring — it makes him physically ill.

“Am I disappointed? Yes. Makes me sick, actually,” he said. “More sick than I’ve ever been in my career when I’ve managed a team. I feel for the fans. I feel for everybody.”

But Rutherford also is optimistic.

In November 2005, when he was general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, his team lost 9-0 at home to the lowly Atlanta Thrashers. Seven months later, the Hurricanes were celebrating with the Stanley Cup.

He sees no reason a similar turnaround can’t be in the cards for the Penguins.

“The fact of the matter is we have a good group of guys here,” Rutherford said, “and we can still make this thing work.”

The Tribune-Review sat down with Rutherford while the Penguins practiced Sunday at Consol Energy Center to get his take on the state of the team.

When you made the Trevor Daley deal last Monday, you said you wanted to give new coach Mike Sullivan and this group of players some time to work on things. They’ve lost four straight games. Do you still feel that way?

It looks like we’re never going to win a game again and we’re buried. We’re not. Somehow we have to figure out how to get a point here, a point there, until we get everybody back. We’re very much still in everything. The bottom line is you gotta make the playoffs to win a Cup, and this team can do it. This is a team that won nine out of 10 at one point this year.

Are you confident that this core group of players — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang — is still championship-caliber?

Yes. Yes I am.

And you haven’t given any thought to the idea of a major roster overhaul or rebuilding process?

No. Now’s not the time to get down and start talking about major changes. When we get everybody back, if we can’t get it going, that may be a whole different story.

Crosby is on pace for career lows in goals and points. Does that have to change for you to win?

We can win games. We can’t win a championship (if it doesn’t change). He’s playing better than people think he is but not at the level that we’re going to need him to play to get over the hump.

Sounds like the same could be said for a lot of guys in the locker room.

That’s fair to say. We’ve got a few guys playing their hearts out. Geno’s the big one. He’s doing everything he can, and he’s played extremely well. We need more from some guys who have more to give.

Daniel Sprong burned a year of his entry-level contract, played sparingly in 18 games and was sent back to juniors before accruing a year toward unrestricted free agency. Do you have any regrets with how that situation played out?

I would have liked it to work out better in the sense that he would have played more, but I don’t point the finger at anybody for that. It was just the circumstances. With that being said, he learned a lot while he was here, and it’s going to be that much better for him when he gets back here, whether it’s in March or April or next September.

When you took this job, you said you didn’t think it would be a long-term appointment. The year and a half since have been anything but a breeze. Do you have an exit strategy in mind?

I would say these last three weeks have been the toughest on me in my career, for me to handle personally. As for an exit strategy, I don’t have one. As long as I’ve done it and where I am in life, I can go today. But the one thing I’ve never been in my life is a quitter. Somebody may tell me it’s time to go, and if they do, that’s fine. But as for me, quitting’s not in my DNA, and it wouldn’t be the right way to teach my son how to live his life.

Jonathan Bombulie is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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