Penguins Update: Rutherford Proving His Worth – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Rutherford Proving His Worth

Two seasons ago Ray Shero won the NHL’s General Manager of the Year Award. Back then the Penguins’ mantra was “In Ray We Trust.” A confidence well-earned…until chronic playoff failures, salary-cap issues, and an uninspired season at the helm cost him his job.


Could Shero’s successor win the award this year? Given the fact that the Pens may fall short of last season’s point total (109), Jim Rutherford probably won’t merit much consideration.

That’s unfortunate.

When ownership rescued JR from the old-folks home with a mandate to add grit and character, some doubted the 65-year-old’s ability to handle the task. Count me among the skeptics.

Rutherford has risen to the challenge—in spades. He’s taken the proverbial bull by the horns and reshaped the team through dramatic trades and shrewd free-agent signings. To say nothing of hiring under-the-radar coach Mike Johnston and hungry, enthusiastic assistants Gary Agnew and Rick Tocchet.

Here’s a quick review of JR’s work.

TRADES: Rutherford was on the job all of three weeks when he swung a blockbuster. Seeking to improve chemistry and depth, he peddled gifted but prickly sniper James Neal to Nashville for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Hornqvist is a relentless competitor who thrives in the dirty areas. He’s matched the departed Neal point for point. Spaling’s been versatile and dependable.

After sending second-tier prospect Philip Samuelsson to Arizona in December for Rob Klinkhammer, JR started the New Year with a bang. On January 2 he parlayed Klinkhammer and a first-round pick into scoring winger David Perron. The feisty Quebec native’s fit snuggly beside Sidney Crosby while piling up nine goals in 17 games.

Most recently, Rutherford added size and aggression by acquiring agitator Maxim Lapierre from St. Louis for peacenik Marcel Goc.

IN POS GP G A PTS +/- CAP HIT (Millions)
Hornqvist RW 42 15 18 33 11 $4.25
Spaling LW 55 8 13 21 5 $2.2
Perron RW 17 9 4 13 -1 $3.8
Lapierre C 8 0 1 1 -3 $1.1
OUT POS GP G A PTS +/- CAP HIT (Millions)
Neal LW 49 19 13 32 18 $5.0
Klinkhammer* LW 36 3 2 5 0 $0.625
Goc C 9 0 1 1 0 $1.2
Samuelsson D 4 0 0 0 -3 $0.63
* Stats with Arizona and Edmonton

FREE AGENTS: JR barely had time to set up shop before free agency hit. Faced with decisions on a slew of UFAs, including key defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik and productive Jussi Jokinen, he bit the bullet and allowed them to walk.

Then Rutherford rolled up his sleeves. In rapid succession he signed gritty forwards Blake Comeau and Steve Downie, veteran defender Christian Ehrhoff, and backup goalie Thomas Greiss for a combined $6.7 million. Or roughly $1 million more than the Capitals will pay Orpik each season over five years.

Talk about getting bang for your buck.

IN POS GP G A PTS +/- CAP HIT (Millions)
Comeau RW 34 12 10 22 7 $0.7
Downie LW 49 9 13 22 6 $1.0
Ehrhoff D 43 3 10 13 9 $4.0
Greiss G 13 771 37 0 2.88 $1.0
OUT POS GP G A PTS +/- CAP HIT (Millions)
Jokinen C 53 4 24 28 -1 $4.0
Niskanen D 55 2 15 17 3 $5.575
Stempniak RW 45 6 8 14 5 $0.9
Orpik D 55 0 13 13 3 $5.5
Vitale C 45 3 3 6 -6 $1.12
Gibbons C 21 0 5 5 2 $0.75
Engelland D 49 0 3 3 -13 $2.92
Glass LW 40 0 1 1 -17 $1.45

THE BOTTOM LINE: I’m not predicting a Stanley Cup this spring. The Pens still have some glaring weaknesses. A rugged forward with size and skill would help. So would a physical defenseman. Depth remains an issue.

Yet nearly every move Rutherford made has reaped dividends. He’s transformed the black and gold from a stale, stagnant bunch into one with an upside.

It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
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  1. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    March 2, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    JR looking like an idiot after deadline day!!1

    Way to go Pen’s management

  2. Pen's 4ever's Gravatar Pen's 4ever
    February 22, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I like JR, but not the Perron deal.. gave up too much. A first rounder in this years draft was not a good idea ( best draft in years)
    I’m not giving up , but in the real world, Pen’s are not going to win the cup with a team like this

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Hey Pen’s 4ever,

      Interesting comment about the Pens perhaps giving up too much for Perron. I certainly understand why Rutherford made the deal…the team needed quality help up front.

      But you make a good point. Somewhere along the line the Pens need to stop dealing draft picks. With all due respect, the cupboard’s kind of bare at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

      Playoff-wise, if the Pens play teams built like them (Detroit, Tampa Bay) I think they have a shot. But if they play the Islanders…or bigger teams like the Rangers or Caps…I’m not too optimistic.

  3. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    February 15, 2015 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rick,
    I am a recent fan of your Blog, and I have enjoyed the last few weeks articles written by you. In the case of “JR”,I think almost everyone is in agreement that JR has performed much better than was expected of him. Ray Shero was a tough act to follow for anybody.In all fairness to the Pens ownership group,it would have been almost impossible to promote one of his assistants to replace him immediately,and not have the FAN BASE rioting in the streets.So JR was brought in to right the ship for a few years until one of the assistants can take over the reins.He is doing well so far.
    What I am most pleased about,is that JR has and continues to make several trades to try to make this team better for the play offs.Given the cap space and crazy contracts he inherited from Shero,he has done a very good job.
    JR has made the team : 1. more physical,2.more balanced,3.a bit bigger and stronger,4.younger,5. more focused on two way play. They are all positives.

    However, if this team is going to go anywhere in the play offs,I think a major,major trade must be done.That takes guts. Ron Burkle,the majority team owner has that in spades.He has sat quietly by for the past 4 years and has seen his 330,000 plus million dollar asset, falter.This man’s career is that he buys failing business’s,injects capital and his management team,then the business’s succeed tremendously,and Ron Burkle reaps the rewards.Smart man.He has done the very same thing in Pittsburgh.
    If we continue to keep missing the mark,major changes will come for sure.
    Every year we do not make it to at least the semi finals, it is a financial failure.
    This team,as it is currently configured can not do that.
    Malkin needs another winger with size and talent,We need a new dominant third line center with another winger with size to play with him.Also we need a veteran ,( rental) mobile defensive # 3/4 d man with size.Finally a back up goalie who you can rely on. What was wrong with Jeff Zarkoff ?
    In order to accomplish this,it will take a massive trade to unload salary,and get talent in return.Pittsburgh,at present is a wealthy team,but 5-7 years from now who knows?
    So, why not call a team ,like Florida,who are reportedly losing very large amounts of money every year, and want to relocate anyway,and offer them a Sutter for Bjugstad,Bennett for Jimmy Hayes,Paul Martin and Brian Dumoulin for Gudbranson, and Pouliot and Sucedri for Ekblad trade deal.Of course a very,very big cheque would have to go along with the players to Florida to make it happen.That is the kind of major trade that the Pens are eventually going have to do if they want to win another cup.( I do not expect this type of deal to actually happen,) but it illustrates the idea that we need several younger players with speed, size and lots of talent if we are ever going to raise another cup !
    Rick,do you think JR will do a major deal something like this ? I do !!
    It makes business sense, and the guy who controls the team in California does not like to lose money.This why ,the WIN NOW mentality is the official policy.

    Lets go Pens !

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 16, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim. It’s always nice to hear from you. And I’m glad you enjoy PP …

      Great comments…very passionate as always…and you make a lot of really interesting points. I really hadn’t thought about things from Burkle’s perspective. If I’m not mistaken, he pushed to replace Shero last spring while Mario favored sticking with Ray.

      I agree with your assessment of the Pens’ needs. As much as I’d love to pry players like Bjugstad, Ekblad, Gudbranson and Hayes (all big, all young, and all very good) away from Florida, I can’t imagine Panthers GM Dale Tallon being too willing to part with them. They’re the heart and soul of that team, no matter where it might be located down the road. But I like the way you’re thinking. And I like the players you identified.

      Regarding the Pens’ big-trade prospects, given our cap constraints and what we have to offer (Dumoulin, maybe Bennett) I don’t think Rutherford will be able to negotiate another blockbuster. I think he might look to add complementary players (e.g.; Toronto’s Daniel Winnik).

      However, JR seems to be very fluid and adaptable. It’s one of his strengths. If an opportunity arises, it wouldn’t shock me to see him make a big trade.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        February 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Well said Rick.
        How about Sutter ,Sucedri , and maybe Kasperi Kapanen, $$$$ for just Bjugstad?
        Florida needs money… and about 10,000 more die hard Hockey fans and we need another dominant, physical center man with size, speed and skill for our 3rd line.
        It is reported Bjugstad recently signed a new 7 year deal for $ 4.1 million annually. A great bargain moving forward in later years.He scored his 20 th goal last game.This guy will be a 40 goal scorer in this league,real soon.With only 2 1/2 years experience in the NHL,his game has a lot of upside to it.

        Sutter has a $ 3.3 million dollar, 2 year contract and Rob S. has 3 years left on his contract at $ 3.2 million plus annually. We would actually save about $ 2.4 million in cap space to spend on another winger for Malkin.
        Plus at 6 foot 6 inches tall, 225 + pounds, just 22 years old… put him in front of the net on our power play and see if Boston or New York can handle that. Kuntz is 5 foot 11 inches, maybe 195 pounds and he tries real hard,but not the same results.


        • Justin's Gravatar Justin
          February 16, 2015 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

          Nick Bjugstad is worth a lot more than all the players you just mentioned from the Pens, he’s turning into a beast of a player. Pretty sure the only way he leaves Florida is if they are relocated.

  4. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    February 15, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rick,

    Nice article. I was a little skeptical about the Rutherford hiring also,I thought Shero did a fine job,but I guess the writing was on the wall with the way the team played in the playoffs. (Still surprised neither Shero or Bylsma are back to coaching and managing)

    As for the moves Rutherford made,I like them,only one I wasn’t big on was the Griess move,I feel that Zatkoff played well last season to deserve the back up role.
    I also would like to comment about Craig Adams. I know most fans are knocking him but I think he’s a beast on the penalty kill and he’s the type of player that gives it his all for the most part,I think the coaches like his defensive play which is keeping him around longer then some fans expected.

    I still think the teams needs a few more pieces to be a contender for the Cup.

    Thanks. I enjoy reading your articles
    Barry Lush

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 15, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Barry. It’s always nice to hear from you.

      I appreciate your take on Craig Adams. One of our other frequent commenters is a big fan of Adams, too. He stresses that No. 27 is really good at “Hockey 101”…always making the smart, reliable play.

  5. February 14, 2015 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Wasn’t a fan of the hire; I still am iffy about him. However, he has done some solid moves this season. Is more active than a 2013 Shero. He has the willingness to gamble, which I like.

    The positives:
    – Downie/Comeau signings.
    – Not re-signing Jussi Jokinen, Matt Niskanen, or Brooks Orpik to long-term contracts.
    – David Perron trade.
    – Trading Marcel Goc for Max Lapierre.
    – Played a big role in drafting Kasperi Kapanen.
    – Hiring Mike Johnston as well as Rick Tocchet.
    – Acquring forwards who are willing to drive to the net.
    – Younger players being given a look.

    Mixed emotions:
    – Christian Ehrhoff signing.
    – Thomas Greiss signing.
    – The James Neal trade.

    The negatives:
    – Craig Adams still on the team.
    – Soft on the back-end.
    – The team is still missing a legitimate heavyweight fighter to contain a Matt Martin type.
    – Lack of size with the forwards; especially on the wing.
    – Amount of team toughness.

    I will give JR a lot of credit. He has done better than I thought he would. There are still many flaws with this team, but that is to be expected when you had a mess to begin with. If this team gets a legitimate enforcer; they are on the right path. I am not expecting this team to win a cup. I do expect this team to play with a lot of passion and heart. And, do that on a consistent basis come postseason time.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 15, 2015 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Good to hear from you, Chris.

      I was always a Ray Shero guy, and frankly, was surprised when the Penguins fired him last spring. I know he didn’t do his best work last year. But I thought he deserved one more season to straighten things out.

      Nor was I especially pleased with Rutherford’s hiring, an opinion based more on Carolina’s recent struggles than anything else.

      In hindsight the Pens’ brass made the right move. While we’ll never know for sure, I don’t believe Shero could’ve retooled the team as effectively. I think it required someone with a fresh approach and perspective.

      Regarding JR’s performance, you and I seem to agree, although I’m more upbeat about the deals in your “Mixed Emotions” category.

      I liked the Nashville trade. I know Neal’s got an awesome shot and release, but he came with an ever-increasing amount of baggage.

      I love the way Hornqvist plays. He keeps it simple and drives to the net. I’m not wild about Spaling—I wish he were more physical. But he’s performed pretty much as expected and gives the Pens some flexibility.

      I wasn’t initially a fan of the Ehrhoff signing, but he’s grown on me. He’s better defensively than I thought. However, given how well Pouliot’s playing in his absence, I wouldn’t expect Christian to return next season.

      I’m not sure what’s going on with Greiss. He’s always been a really solid backup. Maybe it’s a bad fit…he’s probably used to playing behind teams that insulate their goalies better than the Pens do.

      I, too, am a little frustrated with Mike Johnston’s insistence on using Adams every game…especially since Zach Sill is basically the same guy (only younger and tougher). Why not develop a younger player? But the coaches seem to really like Craig–especially on the P.K.

      Like you, I’m concerned about team toughness. We’ve got lots of small-to-medium sized guys who play with an edge–Adams, Comeau, Downie, Kunitz, Lapierre, Perron, and Sill–to name a few. But I wish we had a big, tough forward who could play and serve as a bodyguard. Not necessarily a pure fighter in the Georges Laraque/Eric Godard mold…very few teams carry heavyweights anymore and they never dress in the postseason. More of a Ryan Malone-type. Problem is, there are so few guys who play that style these days. (Where have you gone, Gary Roberts?)

      That’s why I suggested getting Buffalo’s Chris Stewart in a previous post, although the Pens would have to clear significant cap space to get him. Ottawa’s Chris Neil is rumored to be available (and more affordable at $2.1 M). Hate him, but would love him on my team. But I see that he fractured his left thumb in a fight, so scratch that idea.

      Along those lines, I’m leery of drawing a physical team like Washington in the playoffs. We have fast little guys. The Caps have fast 215-pounders. I’m afraid they’ll grind us into the ice.


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