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Off day thoughts: Jim Rutherford named finalist for GM of the year

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Pens are up 2 games to 1 on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here's what we're buzzing about on the off-day; Gentleman Jim is a finalist for GM of the year, the Black Aces are about to arrive, Patric Hornqvist's passon, defensive analysis and more!

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Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was named a finalist for GM of the year, along with Washington's Brian MacLellan and Dallas's Jim Nill.

Rutherford should win this award going away.

He's not perfect an has made mistakes, but not this season. And, let's not forget GM of the year can change quickly. Ray Shero deservedly won it in 2013 when he loaded the Pens up with Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow for spare parts and set the team up for a Cup run...And then Shero was (deservedly) out of a job in 2014 for his own issues.

Rutherford deserves it this year for having his finger on the pulse. Here's a run-down of his most important decisions in the last 12 months:

  • His first career Penguins draft pick was Daniel Sprong. Which, yeah, credit the scouts too, but the Pens hadn't decided to use their first pick on a skilled winger from the Canadian Juniors since Colby Armstrong in 2001 (though JR did draft Kapanen first in his first draft).
  • He made major waves by getting Phil Kessel for, pretty much, what will be a late 1st round pick in 2016 and a prospect of unknown result in Kasperi Kapanen. And got Toronto to eat 15% of Kessel's contract for it's duration.
  • Rutherford traded, in essence, Brandon Sutter (a year away from UFA and a payday) away to Vancouver to get Nick Bonino and also upgraded to get a 2nd round pick for a 3rd. Sutter got over-paid by Vancouver, Bonino had an uneven start but blossomed into the center of the best line in the league. And that move freed up $1.4 million dollars on the salary cap for this season. And, oh yeah, Bonino is under contract for next season as well.
  • GMJR convinced Matt Cullen (a player he was familiar with from their Carolina days) to not retire and sign in August for a dirt-cheap contract that solidified bottom-6 depth and add a veteran presence.
  • In December, Rutherford traded total anchor Rob Scuderi for valuable top-4 defenseman Trevor Daley (plus a $1.125 million cap hit next season that looks worth its weight in gold). While everyone (Pensburgh included) wanted a short-sighted buyout of Scuderi, GMJR parlayed that "asset" into a real on-ice asset. Should win the award based on this alone.
  • He sent the under-performing and slow David Perron to Anaheim in January for Carl Hagelin, who infused more speed into the Pens lineup and basically replaced Pascal Dupuis as the Pens speed demon / PK specialist with some scoring touch.
  • Rutherford didn't over-spend at the deadline by looking to make a splashy add. He got Justin Schultz for a 3rd round pick (which, meh, but added depth) but also did not trade 3rd string goalie Jeff Zatkoff, which proved to be a smart decision to keep goalie depth for the stretch run.
  • And perhaps his best move, GMJR had the foresight to hire Mike Sullivan in the summer to be WB/S's head coach (a guy he knew could be an NHL head coach caliber guy in the worst case scenario) and then pulled the plug in a timely manner on Mike Johnston back in December when it was clear it wasn't working.

  • Plus, looking forward, the Pens have 2 picks in the first 60 of the 2016 NHL draft for the first time since 2012, which will be a chance to re-stock the organization in the future. The Pens lost their first pick via Kessel trade, but still have the chance to get some solid prospects.

It's helpful that Sullivan did so well, but still no GM had a better season than Rutherford. Which, to be fair, could all fall to pieces next season with a couple of bone-headed, ill-advised moves. For now though, GMJR looks like a hero with the way he reshaped the Pens on the fly.

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Wilkes-Barre's elimination means some Black Aces are going to be back in Pittsburgh for the first time in a long time.

Joining the Penguins are defensemen Steve Oleksy and Tim Erixon; forwards Dominik Simon, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Josh Archibald, Kael Mouillierat and Daniel Sprong; and goaltender Tristan Jarry.

And while all of these guys will just be depth and practice (mostly on their own) and soak in a little of the experience from the outside this year, the future will be interesting. Here's a list of the Pens scratches from Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final.

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Some names were never to be seen again but Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy soon became staples in the NHL lineup. Hopefully in a few years we can look back at the 2016 run and see the humble NHL playoff beginnings of key contributors like Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon.

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Dimitri Flipovic had some interesting analysis on defensemen so far in this playoff with regards to zone entries and possession. You can find all the data and information here, below is it boiled down to the Penguins.

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Not surprisingly, Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin are very good  at this, Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole are struggling.

That's something to consider since Lovejoy now has to play a 2nd pairing role. That said, he has been handling that very well so far.

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A lot was made of the heated argument between (mostly) Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby, but anyone who knows Crosby knows this is what he needs; a player with the heart and fortitude to hold him responsible if he doesn't make the right read. Pretty much the only other time this happened was with another right-winger, Bill Guerin, during the Pens last Stanley Cup run.

Also, that's not rare or unusual on a hockey bench. In the heat of the moment, you have to get your point across. Good on Hornqvist for having the passion to help fuel himself and the team.

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Brett Keisel taking Shawn Michaels to a Pittsburgh Penguins playoff game might be the strangest, most wonderful confluence in a long, long time. Gotta love and appreciate social media for these fun, spontaneous moments and movement, considering how nasty and ugly it can be at times.