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Is Jim Rutherford returning a good thing?

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The Penguins have announced their GM will return, and we look at his first year on the job, with mixed moves.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As you've probably heard, David Morehouse gave endorsements for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford (as well as coach Mike Johnston) to return for a second season in Pittsburgh for 2015-16.

But now we have to wonder, is that a good thing?

Rutherford's first year guiding the USS Penguin has seen some good moves and bad. And probably no move indicates that more than the very first big move he made, trading James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. It's fair to call it a mixed move, with good and bad elements. The Pens gave up on Neal, a near point/game scorer in the regular season (but disappointing, mostly unproductive perimeter player come playoff time) in favor of Hornqvist, a solid but lesser skilled player with more of a nose for the net. The Spaling element looms large- the Pens signed him last summer for 2 years and $2.2 million dollars per year. On one hand, Spaling helped solidify the bottom six, he was a decent possession player, executed capably defensively and on the PK. But, on the other hand, $2.2 million is a hefty price to pay for what is a 4th liner for the most part with limited ability to create offense.

Nick Spaling represented a modest, but expensive upgrade to the Pens bottom six (USA Today)

Penguins fans and management have mostly absolved Rutherford for the team's salary cap woes, that were confounded by high price defensemen Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff suffering concussions at the worst possible time when the team didn't have the long-term injury reserve available with less than 10 games to go. However, Rutherford could have made a simple move to demote Beau Bennett before the trade deadline, which would have made Bennett eligible to be sent to Wilkes-Barre (AHL) after the deadline. Bennett was only a 4th line forward down the stretch, and wouldn't have required waivers, but the team painted themselves in a corner and had to play 4 of the final 7 games with 5 defensemen down the stretch.

Rutherford, and cap wiz assistant GM Jason Boterill should have planned for this contingency. It would have required thinking outside the box and some foresight into the possibility of an injury, but being as the Pens were a mere (and unheard of) $2,000 from the upper limit of the cap, per Mike Colligan report, they should have done so. They sent Bennett to Wheeling at the beginning of the 2013 season to stay under the cap, and should have utilized all resources again, just in case. But they didn't and it cost them.

That said, Rutherford survived the cap miscue and will return. His stint as Penguins GM hasn't been without successes. In November he re-signed Marc-Andre Fleury for 4 more seasons through 2019 for a modest raise, a move that will seemingly pay off being as Fleury was steady and consistent all season long, and played championship caliber goaltending in the playoffs again. The Pens traded Robert Bortuzzo to St. Louis for Ian Cole - who appears to be a more useful and better player, that was an unqualified good move too.

But Rutherford had more miscues as well. Simon Despres was sent to Anaheim on deadline day for veteran Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy was put in a top pairing role that was over his head, but he struggled. The Pens sold Lovejoy as an improved and experienced player, and it didn't pay off. Even if they didn't like or trust the inconsistent Despres, that is fine- but the return looks very questionable. Why couldn't the Pens have flipped Despres (a 23 year old, big, good skating defenseman with a first round pedigree) for a similarly skilled player? If the Pens had retrieved a similarly young and talented player like Emerson Etem from Anaheim or Ty Rattie from St. Louis - some sort of young, skilled, promising player, the asset of Despres would have been better managed.

If the Pens had retrieved a similarly young and talented player like Emerson Etem from Anaheim or Ty Rattie from St. Louis - some sort of young, skilled, promising player, the asset of Despres would have been better managed.

You could also probably point to asset management for the trade that sent a 2nd and 4th round pick to Toronto for Daniel Winnik - a useful player, but one that didn't perform well in the playoffs and now is looking at unrestricted free agency. The Pens also sent a 1st rounder for David Perron - which at face value seems like a decent value - but didn't pay off this spring with Perron suffering from a rib injury and failing to produce a goal in the playoffs.

The Pens have a lot of questions too going forward. Veterans like Chris Kunitz and Rob Scuderi struggled mightily this season and have multiple years on their contracts. Do the Pens trust/hope either can play better next year with both being 36 years old when the 2015-16 season starts? That's probably a bad gamble to make and will tie up a hefty $7.6 million dollars on the salary cap.

Other veterans like Winnik, Steve Downie and Blake Comeau will need to be re-signed, or more likely, replaced. We have all summer long to debate and discuss, which is a good thing, because there are no shortage of topics.

I'm interested to see the temperature of the room though, when it comes to news that Rutherford will be back for next season.