Niskanen and Jokinen increased their respective values by having excellent 2013-14 seasons.
"I've talked with them," Rutherford said. "I think both players would like to return. But they're also coming off good years.
It's time for them to hit free agency and get their big contracts. With that being said, we'll see what happens leading up to free agency."
Rutherford declined to comment on defenseman Brooks Orpik, another unrestricted free agent.
Not terribly unexpected, but is there a reason why they haven't traded the rights to either one yet, especially Niskanen?
Perhaps the value is shot, since Niskanen will be the premiere defenseman on the free agent market, and unlikely to sign with anyone before July 1, but it never hurts to try. If Pittsburgh doesn't want Niskanen or Jokinen, they should try to get something of value out of either before they go.
More than likely, however, with Niskanen being the prize defenseman on the market, he's going to wait and see what is out there for him. If that's the case, there's no way he has any value to be traded at this point.
Rutherford also shed some light on his plans entering this weekend's NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
Rutherford said the Penguins are willing to trade their first-round selection - the 22nd overall pick - in return for a player who can help them win in the short term.
"We will trade that pick if it can help us get a player who can help us immediately," Rutherford said.
A lot of Penguins fans on social media are jumping off the cliff on this one, but I can't say I'm with them on this. Sure, ideally the Pens keep their pick, take a stud and watch him quickly grow into a cheap NHL caliber player.
But reality says it will be at least a handful of years before this draft pick is a key player, if he ever develops into it.
This situation reminds me of the 2011 Washington Capitals, who traded their 26th overall pick to Chicago for Troy Brouwer. Chicago drafted forward Phillip Danault. Since the trade, Danault just turned pro, and only scored 6 goals + 20 assists in 72 games in the AHL in 2013-14, making him still a project for an NHL job.
Browuer, then 25 at the time of the trade, has gone on to give the Caps a useful 2nd line winger that has scored 62 goals and 109 points in 2.5 seasons.That's size, skill and production they would not have had if they kept their first round pick.
Sometimes it's better to grab a known quantity and get a sure-fire NHL caliber player, rather than a take crapshoot chance of a draft pick who may (or may not) develop into a useful NHL player in several years. And given that the Pens will not have Jokinen next year and need to stock their 3rd line as well, they definitely have the need for more NHL caliber players right now.
If the Pens can get a quality NHL player on a decent contract, they should definitely consider trading their first round pick. That doesn't have to be a bad thing at all and could prove to be beneficial in the short and long-term, if the right player is acquired.