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Kingerski: Allvin or Next Penguins GM Will Inherit Tenuous Situation

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Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL Trade,Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby

Jim Rutherford picked a fine time to leave the Pittsburgh Penguins. Looming issues born of decisions gone awry and missed opportunities threaten to close the championship window of the Sidney Crosby era permanently.

The full story may come out as to why Rutherford chose to leave the team that he constructed after the beginning of the season, but at best, it’s an odd look.

Moving forward, Penguins president David Morehouse confirmed interim-GM Patrik Allvin would have full authority, but interestingly, “he’ll have Mario Lemieux as a backup.”

If the Penguins want a Stanley Cup this season, time is of the essence. A GM merely keeping the set warm is yet another time waste. If Allvin isn’t the guy, do the Penguins want Allvin making significant moves?

As constructed, the Pittsburgh Penguins had questions and strengths before the first whistle of training camp on Jan. 4. Before the offseason was days old, Rutherford promised changes with speed and youth additions. The now-former GM delivered on his literal promises by immediately acquiring speedy power forward Kasperi Kapanen, but the unknowns and gambles of the offseason can only be answered by live fire within the real NHL season.

And now Rutherford has checked out, but the gambles and team needs remain.

Looking Back

Rutherford’s tenure with the Penguins will forever be successful. Back-to-Back Stanley Cups and the resurrection of a franchise that was reveling in wasted potential and infighting.

Rob Scuderi became Trevor Daley. Robert Bortuzzo became Ian Cole. David Perron became Carl Hagelin, and young Kasperi Kapanen became two-time Stanley Cup champion, Phil Kessel.

“His legacy is the two Stanley Cup banners in the rafters,” Penguins president David Morehouse said on Wednesday.

But that’s not the full story.

Rutherford’s Penguins tenure hit an iceberg in 2018. I remember absorbing a great deal of dissent when I sat behind a microphone at 93-7 the Fan in 2014. Having covered Rutherford for several years prior, I knew his timber, but dissent is a kind word. Actually, I knew nothing because I defended the Penguins’ decision to hire Rutherford.

The ironic part was when I began raising red flags in 2018 after two Stanley Cups. I again knew nothing. That’s the relationship you and I have, and it makes life interesting, doesn’t it?

But Rutherford’s winning streak ended in 2017-18. The third line center role, which was well filled by Nick Bonino, was suddenly a revolving door of players, who were predictably not up to the task.

Pittsburgh Penguins Revolving Door 3C:

Greg McKegg, Riley Sheahan, Derick Brassard, Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann, and now Mark Jankowski inhabited that pivotal pivot behind Sidney Crosby Evgeni Malkin.

Bjugstad was a $4 million option who could have worked except for the salary and serious injuries that cost him most of last season. Bad luck seems to follow bad decisions.

The cost to acquire players like Sheahan and Jankowski was not crippling, but circling those players on the whiteboard cost the Penguins valuable time and missed opportunities.

The cost of Brassard was indeed pocket-emptying, and it could have worked, but no one asked the primary question: Was Brassard OK with being a third-line center? The answer was a firm NO, and thus the assets (a first-round pick, a third-rounder, goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, Ryan Reaves, and Ian Cole) were essentially wasted.

This offseason, Rutherford passed on bonafide third-line centers after he signed Jankowski. Erik Haula and Carl Soderberg slipped past. Jankowski has already been demoted to fourth-line center.

Wouldn’t Haula look good between Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev? Or Zucker and Tanev?

The Penguins third line has mostly been a black hole for three seasons since the last silver chalice made it’s way to the river.

2. The Pittsburgh Penguins NEED Blueline Help (Read: Trade)

An even bigger problem that Rutherford left behind is on the Penguins blueline. There’s a lot of money spent and not a lot of production. The Penguins will be paying Jack Johnson until 2026, and Mike Matheson’s early play looked far too reminiscent of his troublesome play in Florida.

Oh, by the way, Kris Letang is 33-years-old, and you don’t see many players in their mid-30’s play his dynamic style of play.

Beginning next season, Rutherford lined up five defensemen who will make $4 million or more. It’s one of the most expensive defensive corps in the NHL, yet neither one of the most productive nor most effective.

One of Rutherford’s most controversial trades was dealing Patric Hornqvist for the inconsistent Matheson. The Penguins not only lost energy without Hornqvist, but they also gained an expensive defenseman with an unsteady game.

Matheson didn’t dispel the knocks against him in the first two games before being injured by a borderline dirty hit from Nicolas Aube-Kubel in Philadelphia.

Penguins coaches Mike Sullivan, and Todd Reirden chose to balance the blueline by putting LHD Matheson with John Marino on the second pairing, but Matheson had a few goals on his hands before the season was 120 minutes old.

Fellow newcomer Cody Ceci has been solid, but a few mistakes and a recently tarnished reputation also raise questions. Chad Ruhwedel replaced Ceci until Marcus Pettersson was injured in the third game of the season.

P-O Joseph, 21, was thrust into the lineup and has been very good in sheltered minutes. Though if you’re keeping score that’s two new defense pairings, three defensemen who have been scratched or weren’t part of the opening night lineup, and one defender (John Marino) playing out of position.

The Penguins need help.

By multiple accounts, Rutherford was swimming in the NHL trade waters looking for a defenseman. Still, pending Matheson’s return, Pettersson’s status, and Joseph’s continued positive performance, the front office led by Allvin may be tempted to let it play out.

Based on all available data, the view from these seats posits that would be a mistake, but also the likely outcome.

Looming…

Because of the defense cost, including Matheson, and dead money, the Penguins only have about $1.3 million in salary cap space, which translates to about $600,000 in useable space.

Evgeni Malkin.

Before you form a Twitter mob and toss Malkin overboard, is he still the player who scored 74 points in 55 games last season. His hands are there, but there is something amiss with Malkin.

His skating is below typical grade. And, his decision making has been some of the worst of his career.

What if the pandemic prevented Malkin from getting into top shape, unlike last season when he was in rare form. What if Malkin hit the final chapter much sooner than anyone expected?

Malkin’s season is off to a terrible start, and he’s not yet scored an even-strength goal in six games. In fact, he’s not been close.

Malkin looks old. He looks slow. The question is — IS he old and slow?

The Penguins 34-year-old superstar trained like an animal during the last offseason to erase a subpar season in 2019-19.

What if things spiral?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are not a mess. As-Is, they’re a potential playoff team. With some help, perhaps they could be more. But, things could also go sideways and do so in a very big way, too.

Rutherford’s timing was curious. He will not finish what he started but rather force someone else to jump onto his moving train. If Matheson doesn’t work, the Penguins will have a lot of money tied up for a long time. If Jankowski doesn’t work, the Penguins will again be shopping for a 3c. Again. All in addition to patching other holes as they’re identified.

In the meantime, everyone hopes that the train stays on the tracks until the conductor has his (or her) hands on the controls.

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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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Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
6 months ago

My thoughts are that JR was attempting to trade Letang and or Malkin and ownership said NO to trading core players. I think JR then jumped ship. I think we as fans are in for a lot of bad times. I believe we need an outsider perhaps Ron Hextall!

Katz
Katz
6 months ago

You know what else is frustrating? Reading and listening to talking heads and bloggers who cover and tow the company line for fear of losing access. I’ve heard so called high IQ radio hosts quickly dismiss any calls for moving Malikn or Letang. Kinda late now. I’ve read virtually zero critical analysis calling for moving either in the last 5 years. These folks are really just marketers not wanting to lose any access for interviews etc, and really are not honest brokers. Where are the Stan Fishlers ? Gone. Now we have click bait and page view beggars. Forget the… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Katz
Katz
Katz
6 months ago

I’ve been screaming to ask Malkin to waive his NMC since 2016 . I can only imagine Rutherford was thwarted to make the move he felt was best.

After watching $16.5 Million pass back and forth plying paddy cake with no shot on the 2 on Zero it was his final straw.

He has watched two embarrassing playoffs where Malkin was a no show and a pouter ,
Watched as he never missed a shift , and was prevented from helping this franchise make the moves he saw as necessary.

I do not blame him. Good luck Jim .

David
David
5 months ago
Reply to  Katz

Very late in last year’s last playoff game against Montreal, Malkin complained that whichever Canadian was at the faceoff circle was too close in. So Malkin backed off and complained. Nothing changed. So Malkin came back in and pushed the Canadian on his helmet to back him up. THE CANADIAN DIDN’T BUDGE A MILLIMETER. The faceoff proceeded. To me somehow that seems symbolic.

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
6 months ago

I recall when Bonino wasn’t signed and Sullivan was questioned if he was concerned about the loss of the 3C. I paraphrase, Sullivan said the Pens have 87 and 71 and that is a real good start. My initial reaction was that is a very arrogant statement considering the success of that 3rd line led by Bonino. The 3rd line complimented 87 and 71 lines greatly. No doubt any team with 87 and 71 have abundant riches at center on the first two lines. However, that is not enough. Toronto is an example of a team such as that. I… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
6 months ago
Reply to  Ricardo58

The thing is that Bonino, himself, wasn’t a 4 million a year player. He was really average his first season and caught fire into the playoffs. His next season was descent, but still not worth 4mil.

With the second part I’m actually ok moving forward. I believe that Blueger IS a third liner. He needs to improve on faceoffs, otherwise his numbers are better than what a lot of people realise.

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
6 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

I won’t disagree with you. My point is Bonino was better than any 3rd line center since his departure and he was the better choice to keep on that 3rd line til now. Especially since the team was willing to pay Bjugstad 4 mil and he was very average as well.

Dean
Dean
6 months ago

the player criticism by the media and fans is inconsistently applied and not warranted “yet”. The sample sizes are too small. It is a new team with a lot of new players and position changes. Chemistry takes time and with no real preseason, the expectations are just ridiculous. The gaffs on defense are in no may limited to Matheson and Ceci. Marino looks awful and not just on LD. Somehow that is overlooked. I saw someone write that Jankowski’s stats are tanking after his fast start. First the sample size on both are too small and second there was a… Read more »

Chalkdust
Chalkdust
6 months ago

Sorry. Malkin is a turnover machine. He’s been given a pass far to long. He needs to continue his play from the last Boston game to give the Pens a chance to win.

Frank
Frank
6 months ago

Why or why not Rutherford made his decision really does not matter. It is a curiosity of course and I cannot quite shake the feeling that there had to be some trigger event. At some point that may surface, but even when/if it does it does not change anything. So adios to Jim . .. nice work . . . but there are bigger issues for the franchise that have to be addressed. The team does have some substantial holes and as a consequence some major decisions. If the management has decided that Geno and Chris should finish their careers… Read more »

PensPatty
PensPatty
6 months ago

Think it was very unprofessional to quit 7 games into season….should have quit before season or honored his contract till June….

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