Some big rumblings out of Pittsburgh this evening. Jim Rutherford is getting antsy again.
“Has this team been together too long? It’s something I always have to watch for,” Rutherford said. “When do you have to make those changes? The players are doing everything they can to tell me now’s the time.”
“At a young age, guys win Stanley Cups and a lot of guys go their whole career and they don’t even get close to it,” Rutherford said. “We’ve got some young guys that won a couple, then they get bigger contracts and then they kind of settle in. They forget what got them to where they are today.”
“Maybe they change their game,” he said. “Maybe they think scoring more goals or getting more points is what’s going to get them more money. So they get away from their game, what their role is.”
“It’s almost like the guys come to the game and say, ‘Let’s just let the top guys do it. Let Sid and Geno and Phil and Letang carry us and well just get through the game and move on to the next game,’ and forget about the work ethic it takes or forget about the role they play,” Rutherford said.
This is all rubbish. Let’s call a spade a spade. Jim Rutherford has over 30 years in the league and it has been a steady stream of mediocrity with lightning striking in Carolina and Pittsburgh. He was gifted a team ready to contend that did not have any of the needs (#1 center, #1 defenseman, goaltending) that most general managers waste their tenure tracking down until they are fired.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t make any good moves. Mediocrity would imply that there is some good mixed in with the bad. The Phil Kessel trade was a resounding success, it has been great. Getting Brandon Sutter, not only out of Pittsburgh, but to the other coast for Nick Bonino was very good. Taking advantage of Peter Chiarelli is always a good thing. Justin Schultz was a much needed right defenseman. Rob Scuderi off the roster was a huge win. Trevor Daley mixing in the best hockey of his career was an unintended bonus. Ian Cole for Robert Bortuzzo was a definite upgrade for the Penguins
There are some mixed deals in there as well. The Patric Hornqvist trade involved the Penguins giving up fair value for Hornqvist. In that regard it was good. However, that whole Nick Spaling thing that forced the Penguins to play with only five defenseman at the end of the year was sub-optimal. The Hornqvist extension isn't going to get better as time goes on. The past year and change he's been a power play specialist who gets padded possession stats from playing with some of the best centers of their generation.
Carl Hagelin has had really good stretches of play, but they've been front loaded. He was acquired when Rutherford had to move on from David Perron, who Rutherford spent a first round pick on.
You'll notice that none of those moves were very recent. That is because Rutherford hasn't done a very good job the last two years. He's been a classic baby boomer. Use up all the resources and leave the future next to nothing to work with. Then get mad why things aren't getting done. The Penguins haven't used a first round pick since 2014 and now the cupboard is thin.
The lifeblood of the Penguins return to prominence had a lot of Shero draft picks who were called up and contributed. Derrick Pouliot never got an extended look and it looks like Daniel Sprong isn't going to get one either. Pouliot will never fulfill the promise of a #8 overall pick. He does seem to be a decent enough depth defenseman in Vancouver. That's more than I can say for a player I'll mention later. Daniel Sprong has a specific skill set and the only looks he gets are with a 42 year old player who can't hang anymore.
“We hoped Sprong would be in the top nine,” Rutherford said. “He hasn’t jumped ahead of anybody on the right side so he’s playing on the fourth line. It’s not ideal.”
Was the expectation that Sprong should jump ahead of Kessel and Hornqvist? Was he supposed to showcase that by playing fourth line minutes? So far this year Sprong has a points per 60 of 2.13 with his atrocious quality of teammate. Hornqvist is at 1.96. Both acceptable numbers. Neither are driving play. I'm not looking for Sprong to be gifted a spot. I would like to see what he can do when his top three forward linemates aren't Matt Cullen, Riley Sheahan, and Derek Grant.
It is also worth noting that Rutherford prematurely brought up Daniel Sprong his rookie year and his entire development process has been complete crap. With so few valuable draft picks actually used in recent year you would think the general manager would try a little harder to create conditions conducive for players like that to succeed.
Rutherford strangely reneged on the speed and skill approach that won them their 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cups. This was highlighted by wasting a first round pick on Ryan Reaves for some ill conceived toughness. He has been completely negligent in supplying the Penguins with the ability to have four scoring lines. He has elected to go with players like Reaves, Kuhnhackl, Rowney, and the corpse of Matt Cullen this year. He got cocky despite the fact the Penguins PDO'd their way to the second championship.
The Derick Brassard trade had potential to be good. Injuries have played a major role and that is not the general managers fault. The whole Brassard thing on the wing? Unacceptable. It shows a lack of direction and undercuts the entire reason for giving up a first round pick and their top goalie prospect. The point of Derick Brassard was to give the Penguins envious center depth. It appears the reality is that the team is going to make it up as they go along.
Remember those Anthony Duclair rumors? He has nine points in 15 games this year for Columbus. He makes the same as Matt Cullen. He's also not a sub 40% possession player.
I haven't even gotten to the defense group the Penguins currently employ. You want to talk about the Penguins struggling with depth scoring? Look no further than the group that is supposed to get forwards the puck. The league has caught up to the Penguins in the speed department. You can't just flip the puck out and hope to beat everyone like they used to. You need controlled plays and only one pairing is capable of providing that (by the way they just broke that up).
Rutherford voluntarily made their team strength (forward scoring depth) worse when he moved Conor Sheary and his reasonable 3.0M cap hit. He was only able to get a third round pick in return because he had to attach one of his bad defense signings in Matt Hunwick to the deal. Anytime you can give money and term to a fringe NHL player you gotta do it. Am I right?
Hell, don't stop there why not give out a five-year contract for a player who is at best replacement level. The Penguins took from a strength and gave that money to a weakness, but only made their weakness worse. The Jack Johnson saga was an embarrassment the day the Penguins were tied to him in rumors. Back to back years the Penguins made moves (Johnson/Reaves) in the offseason that drew the laughter of those piped into basic logic.
Apparently the Penguins only have three NHL caliber defenseman who shoot right handed in the organization. When one of them goes down to injury the depth guy struggles to get into the lineup as we watch mediocre/bad defenseman try to play their unnatural side.
If anything on this roster is stale it is because of the person in charge of the roster. Jim Rutherford started his tenure as Penguins General Manager as the banker in Oregon Trail, aka easy mode. Since then resources have dwindled and he forgot what made the team good in the first place, speed and skill. What was once a fortuitous situation is now bearing some harsh reality.
Rutherford is now the farmer in Oregon Trail with little money and few items for trade. He's wasted time and the weather is changing Rushing forward is only going to cause harm at this point. He's doubling down and fording rivers instead of being able to pay for a ferry. Then he gets mad at the kids for drowning.
The team doesn't need a change for the sake of changing. It needs a change because little positive has been done the last two years in roster construction. The core group from the Cup teams aren't complacent. They don't have the proper help.
The only dysentery here are the comments coming from the guy who built this current team.
Thanks for reading!