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Is Rutherford Saving Cap Space for an Impact Trade?

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Pittsburgh Penguins trade; GM Jim Rutherford NHL trade rumors

Erik Haula, Carl Soderberg, and Anthony Duclair didn’t just sign for peanuts. After months on the NHL free-agent market and with the season approaching, the trio signed for peanut dust compared to what they were worth. Haula and Soderberg were the premier third-line centers on the NHL free-agent market, but the Chicago Blackhawks signed Soderberg for just $1 million on Saturday. So what about the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Excluding Jared McCann, whom the Penguins coaches believe is more dynamic on the wing, Teddy Blueger had the best season among the down-line center candidates with just 22 points. Another possible third-line center Mark Jankowski scored just seven points (5g, 2a) in 56 games for the Calgary Flames last season. He was a healthy scratch for five of the 10 Calgary postseason games.

Haula, who signed with Nashville for $1.5 million, scored 24 points (12g, 12a) in just 48 games. Soderberg’s defensive game is solid, and last season he scored 35 points (17g, 18a) for Arizona.

Yet, sources confirmed the obvious to Pittsburgh Hockey Now; the Penguins did not make a serious run at either. On Thursday, we opined on that matter without fear or favor.

This leads us to something a league source who works for a rival team told PHN a few weeks ago.

“When (Rutherford) locks in on a player, he can be stubborn,” the team source said.

The comment was NOT a criticism, but an acknowledgment Rutherford usually gets his man, eventually. Kasperi Kapanen is a prime example. Rutherford reportedly kicked the tires on the newly (re)acquired winger for over a year. Kapanen was the Penguins’ 2014 first-round pick before Rutherford dealt him to Toronto in the 2015 Phil Kessel acquisition.

So, too, is Jason Zucker a perfect example. In the summer of 2019, Rutherford attempted to acquire Zucker in exchange for Phil Kessel. After Kessel vetoed the trade, the Penguins GM finally landed his prize in January for defenseman prospect Calen Addison and a pick, which became the Penguins 2021 first-round pick (the Penguins also dumped struggling winger Alex Galchenyuk on Minnesota in the trade).

But, back to the source conversation.

“I think Jim is waiting for (player name removed),” the source said.

We’ve removed the player’s name from the quote because the source doesn’t work for the Penguins, and the source didn’t specifically cite first-hand info but expressed a belief based on internal chatter.

And I specifically don’t want this to be an “NHL trade rumor” piece. That’s not the point you should take away, though it is something we’ve been periodically checking. The name has been previously reported.

But is saving salary cap space for an impact trade the primary reason Rutherford sidestepped at least a pair of free agents who would have instantly improved the Penguins roster?

There are only a few possible answers to that question.

Could Rutherford believe that Jankowski is equal to Haula or Soderberg? Has the COVID pandemic affected the Penguins’ finances so that a couple or a few million dollars is an important saving?

The Penguins currently have $1.3 million in cap space but could grow that number to well over $3 million by placing a pair of depth players on the taxi squad.

Or, is the Pittsburgh Penguins GM is palming enough cap space to acquire an impact player who he thinks could help or even change the dynamics of his team.

In a matter of days, opposing teams have scooped up the cream of the second wave free-agent crop. There are no longer free agents who could solidify the bottom of the Penguins line up, and so we’re left with the above options … and the belief of at least one rival.

The Pittsburgh Penguins training camp begins seven days hence. The season opens with the Philadelphia Flyers in 17 days. And the roller coaster will begin with a rapid-fire 56 games against only divisional opponents. Every single game will be a four-point game. Every single game.

Perhaps you’re as curious as I am when, or if, the chain of events begins.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Joe Cursi
11 months ago

The reason the Pens didn’t go after Soderberg is that he is older than dirt, and just a step faster. Let’s see what they have after the first 15-20 games and then go from there. Unless Kapanen does the dirty work on Syd’s line he will end up on the third line which will be a boost anyway.

Joe Cursi
Joe Cursi
11 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

How many points did Mallon and Tanger have? And how many did Soderberg have?

Frank
Frank
11 months ago

With GMJR just about anything, short of dealing away Crosby, is possible to one degree or another. I am guessing hardly a day goes by that he is not working on some sort of player movement or at least one he would like to make. He has brought in a couple of guys this off season that are not better than the last 3 or 4 players just signed over the last week or two. So either he feels others are underestimating those new additions or he has something in progress. One thing for sure he is not shy about… Read more »

Crosby32746@yahoo.com
Crosby32746@yahoo.com (@crosby32746yahoo-com)
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank

I am more worried about HOW they play rather than WHO they play. They played the best hockey over the last two years during the stint last year when both Syd and Geno were both out.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi (@richi81)
11 months ago

Whatever he does, dont trade the 21-22 1st round pick unless your acquiring a player that can slide in and be an effective 2C as well. That pick maybe another lottery pick. This team needs everything to fall into play to make it to the finals, and in sports, thats a long shot.

Last edited 11 months ago by Rich Filardi
Jason Kirklin
Jason Kirklin (@jkirew)
11 months ago

Laine is the marked man, if I were a betting man. The question is, will GMJR overpay or let him go to a rival club. I could see the Devils and Philly trying to get Laine, too.

Anex
Anex
11 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I would love to see the penguins acquire Patrick Laine. He is a game changer offensively. One of the best offensive players in the league I think.

Jason Kirklin
Jason Kirklin (@jkirew)
11 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Interesting….

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