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Rutherford: Penguins plan doesn’t change as deadline nears

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, February 28, 2017 10:27 a.m
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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.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins Eric Fehr plays against the Capitals March 20, 2016 at Consol Energy Center.

DALLAS – When the Washington Capitals added Kevin Shattenkirk, the top rental defenseman on the market, it was the first major shot fired among Eastern Conference contenders in the run-up to Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.

From the perspective of Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, that doesn’t mean an arms race is about to break out.

Beyond acquiring Ron Hainsey on Thursday, thus adding depth to a defense that was being stretched close to its breaking point, Rutherford has said all month he feels no sense of urgency or desperation to make a roster-shaking trade.

With the deadline closing in, his refrain remained the same.

“Our plan doesn’t change,” Rutherford said. “We feel comfortable with our team. If there’s something we can add at the right price here prior to the deadline, then we’ll consider doing it.”

In order to have some roster flexibility — perhaps so they can pursue the right piece at the right price — the Penguins placed veteran forward Eric Fehr on waivers Tuesday.

If Fehr is claimed by noon Wednesday, his $2 million salary would be off the books for the Penguins, who have precious little salary cap space to spare. If he is not claimed and is sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins would save $950,000 in cap space.

Fehr, 31, has six goals and 11 points in 51 games with the Penguins this season.

“We’ve really liked Fehrsie’s game the last couple of weeks,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We think he’s played really good hockey for us. Obviously this is an aspect of the game that surrounds the business of the game that’s never easy for any of us. I think our management was looking for flexibility around the trade deadline.”

After the Hainsey trade, Rutherford said he would have a meeting with the team’s hockey staff to discuss whether further additions on defense were warranted.

Olli Maatta (hand) and Trevor Daley (knee) both had surgery in recent days and are expected to be out until the waning days of the regular season. Kris Letang did not accompany the team on its current road trip, which includes games Tuesday night in Dallas and Wednesday night in Chicago, because of an upper-body injury.

Rutherford said the team’s entire hockey staff is on the trip. They were scheduled to meet Tuesday morning to map out further battle plans.

“If the right fit — what we call the right fit — is there for us, more in a depth role because we feel all our defensemen will be back for the playoffs, then we might look at that,” Rutherford said.

In addition to talking to the team’s inner circle of decision makers, Rutherford said he also plans to be in communication with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury right up until Wednesday’s deadline.

“There’s nothing more to add,” Rutherford said. “That really covers it.”

Fleury has not publicly admitted to requesting a trade, but he has, when asked, consistently expressed his disappointment with limited playing time this season. Rutherford has steadfastly said he would prefer to keep both Fleury and starter Matt Murray through the playoffs, but would take into consideration his 32-year-old goaltender’s wishes.

The Capitals got Shattenkirk, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July, from St. Louis on Monday night for a package that included a first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick and prospect Zach Sanford.

The move helped set the market for what price must be paid to bring in high-end rental talent — and showed that the cost to acquire impact players with years left on their contracts will be even higher.

Rutherford said he has no particular preference toward rental players or players with term left on their contracts if he happens to find a deal that is to his liking before the deadline.

“It depends who it is,” Rutherford said. “It depends who the player is and what the situation is. It could be one or the other.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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