Pens hope to reach long-term deal with Brandon Sutter
In the past four days, the Penguins have lost 10 players who saw NHL game action last season to free agency.
That doesn’t include right wing James Neal, who was traded last week.
General manager Jim Rutherford said he doesn’t mind.
Rutherford made it clear when he replaced Ray Shero changes were coming.
“I think we’ve done a lot of good things during these past few days,” Rutherford said.
The latest player to leave the Penguins is winger Brian Gibbons, who was a standout with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) before making a significant contribution to the Penguins during the second half of the regular season and during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Columbus on Friday signed the speedy Gibbons to a one-year, two-way deal.
Rutherford, who is dealing with about $7.3 million in cap space, has numerous restricted free agents to sign.
Barring some creativity — or someone willing to play for about the NHL minimum — Rutherford essentially is done with unrestricted free agency.
“I think that’s the case,” he said. “Things have quieted down.”
Since becoming general manager of the Penguins in June, Rutherford has handled most everything with calmness. That is the approach he is taking toward his restricted free agents.
The biggest name among the restricted free agents is center Brandon Sutter. Rutherford has only so much money to work with but expects to sign the team’s most important restricted free agents.
Sutter, right wing Nick Spaling and defenseman Simon Despres are the three biggest names among six restricted free agents.
“I’m not concerned at all about signing Sutter,” Rutherford said. “Honestly, I’m not concerned about any of the restricted guys. At some point, we’ll have them signed.”
The Penguins have two reasons for wanting to sign Sutter to a long-term deal.
His playoff performance this past season — Sutter scored five goals in 13 games while playing standout defense — convinced the Penguins he should be their No. 3 center for many years to come.
Also, time is of the essence. Should Sutter agree to only a one-year deal, he will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2015.
Given the money spent on less accomplished players than Sutter when free agency opened Tuesday, the Penguins would prefer to have the two-way center from Alberta locked up well before he has an opportunity to depart.
“I really like Brandon Sutter as a player,” Rutherford said. “I always have.”
Rutherford knows Sutter well, having drafted him in the first round in 2007 while general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes.
In fact, Rutherford never wanted to trade Sutter to the Penguins in 2012. However, to land center Jordan Staal for the Hurricanes, Rutherford had to pull the trigger.
He doesn’t want to lose Sutter twice.
“I hope he’s here for multiple years, in fact,” Rutherford said. “But we need to see how it all plays out here. From my point of view, I hope he’s here for a long time. But you have to have both parties wanting the same thing.”
Note: The Nashville Predators released a behind-the-scenes video from NHL Draft night on “PredsTV,” which focused on general manager David Poile’s trade negotiations with Rutherford. Tidbits include Poile explaining to Predators brass moments before the James Neal trade: “He’s calling Mario (Lemieux). If Mario says yes, we’ll do the deal.” The video also focuses on the Penguins showing interest in Nashville’s first-round pick, which was the 11th overall selection.