The podcast hosts specifically gave Jim Rutherford the chance to close the door on any speculation or wonder if the Pittsburgh Penguins would trade Evgeni Malkin. He didn’t.
Rutherford appeared on the Two Man Advantage podcast, which is hosted by The Athletic and hosted by national writers Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun. Not only did Rutherford refuse to slam the door, but he also left it ajar and wondered aloud if his star players have the enough desire to win more Stanley Cups.
Rutherford didn’t exactly put Malkin on the Penguins trade block, but his stated willingness to listen to offers is a departure from last spring when Malkin and the team appeared to finalize their future together.
“Geno had a terrific year. He came in, in great shape and a great mood. He was the MVP of our team in the regular season and he’s still got a lot of hockey left in him,” Rutherford began before he opened the door. “The best way to answer the question is: I’m not shopping him. I’m not shopping our core players, but we all know that in our game, one of the great, if not the greatest players (Wayne) Gretzky was traded. You want to always listen if somebody’s got something to offer.
“I’m not in a hurry and not trying to trade any of those top guys.”
Malkin was the Penguins’ primary offensive producer for a large chunk of the season. While captain Sidney Crosby missed 28 games due to core muscle surgery, Malkin went on a tear. He scored 38 points in 26 games during Crosby’s absence and 74 points in 55 games this season. Malkin also had a hand in 40% of the Penguins offense during Crosby’s injury time.
The Penguins players voted Malkin the team MVP on Sunday.
However, the Penguins exited the NHL postseason quietly for the second consecutive season. Rutherford panned his team’s compete level in his postseason press conference. He questioned his team’s heart again on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, two years in a row, we ran into two goalies who were terrific, but the thing that bothered me the most about the (last) two years is … it didn’t go our way, and we didn’t have that same fight in us as the series wound down. (We didn’t have) that same determination or the same fight, win at all costs right to the very end. That was a little troubling for me.”
Rutherford also discussed the parallels between his team and the rival Washington Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Washington has also made two straight early playoff exits despite a talented veteran core.
The New York Islanders bounced Washington in five games, and Rutherford wondered aloud if most star players who have won Cups can be as hungry to win more.
Read into his answer as much or as little as you will.
“Sid is going to give all he got, and he will drive to win as many Stanley cups as he can. You wonder about guys, they have won two, three Cups and they have a great legacy already,” Rutherford said. “You still want to win, but do you still have that same drive as when you were trying to win the first one. And the second one. And the third. I sit there and wonder sometimes.
With that being said, we have a lot of guys who are still really good players and are capable of doing it, but it’s hard to maintain it.”
The other player with a “legacy” on the Pittsburgh Penguins not named Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby is Kris Letang, who took a step back this season. Letang had 44 points (15g, 29a) in 61 games and didn’t register a point in the four postseason games against Montreal. Letang’s 44 points were his lowest total since his Norris Trophy-caliber 2016-17 was cut short by a neck injury.
Rutherford was candid and blunt. Host Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic asked him to put the Penguins trade speculation surrounding Malkin to bed, and Rutherford refused. It spoke loudly, even to the hosts.