CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In the middle of an interview session with a gaggle of local reporters Wednesday, Jim Rutherford’s cell phone rang. Because of course it did.
Hours after completing a trade that sent winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to Buffalo for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2019, the Pittsburgh Penguins general manager was still busy as he tried to take a few minutes to catch some glimpses of the team’s development camp that opened at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
“I would say that it created a little stir, once we made the announcement,” said Rutherford of the $5.25 million in cap space he opened by making the trade. “Getting a lot more calls.”
Rutherford, never shy about making deals he thinks will help his club, was not able to swing any moves during the draft weekend, and he is not done. The free agency period officially kicks off Sunday, and more trades could be made in the interim.
His highest priority is adding a defenseman, and not just because he was able to move lightly-used Hunwick and his largish cap hit of $2.25 million.
Getting defensive help “is what we wanted to do anyway,” Rutherford said. “So whether still had Matt or not, our priority in this offseason was to add another defenseman.
“I talked about getting balance through the lineup. I think we have that with our forwards. If we can add another defenseman I’d be pretty happy.”
Not long after speaking, PHN and other outlets confirmed the Penguins will sign defenseman Jack Johnson, when free agents are able to sign, Sunday.
Rutherford has some other business, too. He hopes to re-sign fourth-line center Riley Sheahan and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak.
“We’re getting closer on the Riley Sheahan deal,” the GM said. “Hopefully, we get that done. This (trade Wednesday) is not going to affect him. I think his number’s going to fall where we thought it was going to.”
Rutherford said opting not to tender Sheahan a qualifying offer by the deadline for restricted free agents Monday was calculated.
“He likes it here, and we trust when he said he understood why we didn’t qualify him,” Rutherford said. “We were in communication the whole time with the agent and him. Yeah, I guess there’s a little bit of a risk, but not a lot.”
As for Oleksiak, Rutherford seems optimistic and not hurried.
“That’s just in the process now,” he said. “It’ll get done at some point. The fact that we qualified him (means) he can’t go anywhere.”
Even with extra cap space following Wednesday’s trade, Rutherford isn’t going to let it burn a hole in his pocket. Mostly.
“I’m not going to spend the money just to do it,” he said. “If there’s a guy that we like, then we’re going to spend it. And if not, we’re going to sit on it for a while.”
Besides, he said, the pool of unrestricted free agents isn’t necessarily Penguins-friendly.
“It’s OK,” he said of the talent available. “I mean, not a lot of impact guys get to free agency anymore. Teams jump in and sign them. And the impact guys that are there are usually out of our reach because of cap space. But there are guys there that we would have interest in.”