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Jim Rutherford Hunting Trades to Bolster Penguins



Penguins GM Jim Rutherford Photo from Twitter Account

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not adequately rebuild their roster for another run at the Stanley Cup. To his credit, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford is tacitly acknowledging that fact, already. According to broadcast reports from Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada, Rutherford is hunting trades to add veteran leadership and an experienced backup goalie.

While the Sportsnet crew, which included Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, did not specifically mention more bottom-6 scoring, it seems a natural assumption the search for veteran leadership is tied to the need for offense from the third and fourth lines.

I hate to say I told you so, but…I told you. From the beginning. (Actually, I’m lying. I love saying it. I believe I was called out by at least one big name media personality for the analysis which is now being confirmed, while another worked hard to push the “it’s early” analysis).

The Sportsnet cast reported the Penguins made a late offer for Matt Duchene–that should tell you just how seriously the Penguins are looking to upgrade. Duchene would not have been cheap to acquire and it would have cost the Penguins significant assets.

If the Penguins were willing to part with assets and able to squeeze Duchene’s $6 million salary in their salary cap structure, other big names could be on the table.

Backup Goalie

The Penguins have a very interesting choice at backup goalie. In three NHL starts, two this season, Tristan Jarry has done nothing to dispel the idea that he will be a very good starting goaltender in the NHL, perhaps elite. However, at 22-years-old, Jarry is still green and needs more playing time to continue his development.

Jarry is probably the best backup goalie the Penguins could get, but by planting him behind Matt Murray at the NHL level, they could stunt his growth, or worse, directly harm it. As NHL shooters get a look at his flaws, they will begin to exploit them and Jarry doesn’t have Murray’s 6′-4″ frame to cover up shortcomings as he progresses.

The HNIC cast confirmed Rutherford would like Jarry to develop in the AHL.

To acquire an experienced backup goalie, who can stop pucks (the important part, eh?), the going rate is typically giving up a 2nd to 4th round draft choice, and taking on a salary cap hit of $1 million to $2.5 million.

Think Chad Johnson in Buffalo ($2.5 million), or Al Montoya ($975,000), who has fallen behind Charlie Lindgren in Montreal. Rutherford could also go after a bigger catch, such as Cam Ward ($3.3 million).

Veteran Leadership / Scoring

AS PHN has analyzed, to some at ad nauseum, the Penguins bottom-6 group of forwards have been an offensive black hole. The Penguins scored four goals and had 30 shots on goal, Saturday in Nashville. However, their third line, Conor ShearyRiley SheahanPatric Hornqvist had ZERO shots, combined.

Regardless of which wingers have played with Sheahan, (Guentzel, Rust, Hornqvist, Sheary, Hagelin, Kessel), shots and offensive have been lacking.

The only common denominator is Sheahan. The Penguins need Sheahan to find his game, very quickly. The league is watching. With each flat line performance, the price to acquire what ails the Penguins goes up.

One name we floated in July:  Tyler Bozak. The former Phil Kessel pivot, who wins faceoffs and kills penalties, has been demoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs fourth line.

The Penguins could fill a couple of the Maple Leafs’ needs, too. We’ll explore this further, tomorrow.

Priorities, Priorities

Jarry’s current level of NHL competence certainly buys time for the Penguins. The Penguins must determine the holes in Jarry’s game and decide if playing in the NHL will help or hurt him. Matt Murray was able to work through them at the NHL level, en route to a pair of Stanley Cups while still sporting a rookie status.

The Penguins may need to play Jarry more…or hide him until they find a backup. Regardless, Jarry gives the Penguins the ability to focus on their pressing need, third line scoring, and leadership.

Matt Cullen, according to Mike Sullivan, was “an extension of the coaching staff”. The man they called “Dad” was able to hold players accountable, including star players. Several nights, Cullen sat in his locker stall holding court after a bad game. He didn’t pull punches or sugar coat realities. He did the same thing behind closed doors.

Chris Kunitz was a trusted Crosby confidant. When the locker room nearly fractured under head coach Mike Johnston, it was Kunitz who had Sidney Crosby‘s back. Kunitz’ gritty play on the ice also set a tone.

Kunitz’ $2 million salary in Tampa Bay must look like a bargain to the Penguins, now. It’s also no coincidence, the Lightning are off to an amazing start and playing hockey “the right way”.

So, let the silly season finally begin for the Penguins. In July, they largely punted. Now, they must make up for that lost time. It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be much harder now.

But, that seems to be when this group thrives. Game on.