Penguins GM Jim Rutherford says he has plan in place for offseason |

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford says he has plan in place for offseason

Jonathan Bombulie
Getty Images
In this file photo from June 22, 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins general manger Jim Rutherford attends the NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguin's Phil Kessel plays against the Capitals May, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford watches the team during practice Saturday, May 28, 2016 at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

With an uneventful draft weekend in the rearview mirror, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has the plan for the next part of his offseason mapped out.

There’s a good chance the plan will include trading away a winger to free up salary cap space, which could lead to adding a dependable defenseman and bottom-six scoring help.

There’s very little chance it will include trading Phil Kessel.

There’s even less chance it will include signing John Tavares.

The Penguins were described in national media reports as potential darkhorses to enter the fray to sign Tavares, the top prize in this year’s free-agent class.

Looking at his salary cap situation, Rutherford laughed off the notion Monday afternoon.

“I’m a creative. I’m not a magician,” he joked.

Rutherford was almost as dismissive of the idea that he might trade Kessel. He was asked if he’s planning on keeping the 30-year-old winger around despite rumors to the contrary.

“Yeah. Did I ever say I wasn’t?” Rutherford replied.

With the quips out of the way, Rutherford earnestly discussed his plans for the summer.

The first order of business appears to be freeing up a little bit of cap space. The bill is coming due after consecutive Stanley Cup championships, and if Rutherford wants any freedom to make any kind of roster alterations — whether it’s when the free-agent signing period opens Sunday or later in the summer — his payroll needs a haircut.

Rutherford didn’t mention any cap-casualty candidates, but based on the way the team’s roster is constructed, it’s likely to be a winger. Conor Sheary’s $3 million salary and Carl Hagelin’s $4 million paycheck stand out.

“With the forwards that we have, even if we moved one out, we still have enough forwards to create the four-line balance within the group we have, which was helped with the midseason deals with (Riley) Sheahan and (Derick) Brassard,” Rutherford said. “The fact that we’ve got the structure down the middle, and we’ve got good young wingers coming, we can do that from within.”

Rutherford said he plans to use the cap space he creates in two ways.

For one, he wants to add a defenseman who can allow coach Mike Sullivan to roll his three pairs more evenly. That would limit Kris Letang’s minutes, which Rutherford said he thinks would lead to an improvement in the 31-year-old’s play.

“Getting him to 24 minutes would not only help him but help the team and help his longevity,” Rutherford said.

Also, Rutherford would like to add some scoring punch to the bottom end of the forward lineup.

“I’d like to get more production out of our fourth line,” Rutherford said. “I think it makes it more difficult for the players when you’re putting extra pressure on the top two lines and the power play. We have good enough players to carry us through that, but I’d prefer they don’t feel that extra pressure.”

Another way Rutherford could ease the pressure on his top stars, of course, is to add another star to the mix. While a healthy dose of Rutherford creativity would be required to make any marquee addition possible under the cap, there’s a reason the Penguins keep getting linked to players like Carolina scorer Jeff Skinner in trade rumors.

The team’s identity is based on speed and skill, and Rutherford has no plans to change that, no matter how last season ended.

“I think (goalie Braden) Holtby had his best series against us of the three. He was rested,” Rutherford said. “(Evgeny) Kuznetsov, he came into his own, and their top players, for the first time, played the game the right way. That was the difference. I don’t think the difference was because they became bigger and stronger.”

Rutherford said he thought the trade market was stagnant at the draft because teams were waiting to see where Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk ended up before they made their moves.

If the Tavares signing doesn’t break the logjam, Rutherford said he’s OK with that, too.

“I think it would be good if we could make a few changes, but if we don’t, we still have a good team,” he said. “You don’t win the Cup in June or July. You have until the trade deadline to put the finishing touches on it. If I felt our team had to improve to compete in the regular season, then I’d feel more urgency, but I don’t feel that.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.