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Mistakes & Injury Drive Penguins Trade Deadline Needs



Jim Rutherford Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Deadline

Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford and the Penguins find themselves in a hole of their own digging as Penguins trade rumors again heat up.

If Pittsburgh Hockey Now has criticized Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford, it does not immediately come to mind. His moves have primarily hit the mark for the past three years. However, when things go sideways, such things often happen in a hurry. We may be to that point, and Rutherford has only two weeks remaining to “redd up’ his room.

Misfires are complicating the Penguins trade deadline outlook and the injury to defenseman Olli Maatta does not help. The scuttle is the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking for a left winger. And because of Maatta’s injury, perhaps they have added a defenseman to the shopping list.

Rutherford traded a potentially potent left winger–Derrick Brassard–to get a third line center which they currently may or may not have with Nick Bjugstad or Jared McCann. It would appear thrusting McCann into the role is currently a reach, though in fairness may not be such in the future.

And it appears head coach Mike Sullivan’s preference is to skate Bjugstad on the right wing, which leaves open the third line center role, too.

In addition to dealing Brassard, Rutherford also traded LW Carl Hagelin for Tanner Pearson, who has increasingly played in the shadows over the past six weeks. Since Pearson scored two goals on Jan. 11, he has just one goal and one assist in 11 games. Worse, he’s been a non-factor on the ice.

Bryan Rust has mostly been called to duty on the top line right wing, which leaves Dominik Simon and Pearson as the other potential top-six LWs.

Yeah. It’s easy to understand a fan’s frustration and the left wing situation cannot make the Penguins comfortable either. Simon is a perfect fit for the Penguins with his bargain bin contract, speed and playmaking skills. He is a great utility player but to rely on him for offense as a top-six regular is to overextend his abilities.

Monday night, Phil Kessel made an ultra-rare appearance on the left side in Mike Sullivan’s effort to patchwork his lineup.

It seems the harder Jim Rutherford works this season, the further the Penguins get from being settled. It’s fair to say the Penguins are missing the rug which ties this room together.

Such a player to pull it together doesn’t need to be a splashy get or expensive acquisition. Bill Guerin drove the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup for far less than Marian Hossa cost in 2008. In 2016, the Penguins acquired Carl Hagelin for sputtering winger David Perron and depth defenseman Adam Clendening.

Winnipeg had far more success renting Paul Statsny for a much lower cost than the Penguins had in landing the big fish, Brassard.

The Brassard fiasco wasn’t Rutherford’s fault. Few could have predicted it would go so wrong. And Sullivan’s usage failed to salvage the project which could have yet yielded a valuable commodity albeit in a different position. Acquiring Pearson and losing the speedy Hagelin who excels in the second half only deepened the Penguins hole.

So, instead of simply being able to spend a second round pick for a physical third line center like Brian Boyle as Nashville just did, the Penguins must be on the lookout for a top-six capable left wing, a third line center and maybe a defenseman.

Shopping for a defenseman digs the hole deeper as the Penguins also dealt defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to Dallas for only a fourth-round pick.

That’s a lot of holes to fill after already trying to fill them. Sometimes work begets more work but to his credit, Rutherford is not the stubborn type. Nor is he a conservative, “hope as a strategy” GM type.

It certainly will be interesting to watch him work.