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Grading Jim Rutherford’s deadline trades

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We look at the active general manager’s past to see what it might say about the future

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Can you tell the future by looking in the past? Probably not entirely, but it’s fun to go down memory lane and judge things so we’ll look at Jim Rutherford’s deadline (or close enough) type trades to see what trends and patterns have happened. Pics from nhltradetracker.com

2018

Grade: D-

In theory it was a home run move (then again, aren’t all ideas great at the time?) but this one deserves praise. The Penguins cleverly involved a third team in Vegas in the deal when cheap old Ottawa couldn’t/wouldn’t retain salary on Derick Brassard.

But, it just hasn’t worked out on the ice. The price paid; a 2018 first, a top but young goalie prospect, a fourth rounder and two possible playoff scratches in Ian Cole and Ryan Reaves was well worth the gamble. But Brassard has never meshed in Pittsburgh so it’s more of a dud for how it shook out.

2017

Grade: C in reality but an A, if only because it trolled Philly

Rutherford was negotiating with the rival Flyers, who as always were outside the championship picture and looking to sell off veterans. Reportedly, Philly was trying to over-charge their rivals with a second or even first round pick. Pittsburgh balked and Philly had to trade Streit to Tampa for veteran Valtteri Filppula and a fourth round pick.

Tampa quickly recouped that pick by trading Streit to Pittsburgh.

“The price earlier in the day was quite a bit higher than it was when we eventually got him,” Rutherford smiled.

Streit was pretty much out of gas and only played three playoff games with the Pens, but he did win the Stanley Cup which never would have happened if Philly didn’t trade him first to Tampa.

Grade: B+

Eric Fehr was signed in 2015 to be in the mix for the Pens’ third line center job, but he wasn’t really a good fit (Nick Bonino worked out better). But Fehr still had a contract paying him $2.0 million through 2017-18. Rutherford squirms out of paying a lot for a fourth line player for only the cost of a fourth round pick. Expected value of a late fourth round pick: very low. Excellent move to clear space for the future.

Grade: A

The Pens knew there was a chance Kris Letang might not be back from his neck injury and he wasn’t. But he wasn’t shut down when this trade was made, so it’s a good insurance policy. Ron Hainsey was a player Rutherford was very comfortable with (despite not having any NHL postseason experience) and ended up playing 20 minutes a night on the first pair and helped win a Stanley Cup. It wasn’t always pretty but it was a clutch depth add for a reasonable price and the results speak for themselves.

2016:

Grade: A+++

You dream of trades like this, pilfering a young defenseman who can skate like the wind and move the puck for basically a song and a dance. Schultz needed heavy sheltering and wasn’t all that good in 2016, but since then he’s really gotten a chance to develop into a solid NHL player all-around the ice.

2015:

Grade: B+

Ian Cole was a solid player in Pittsburgh even if he never really seemed to be trusted by Mike Sullivan. This trade worked out for both teams as Robert Bortuzzo has found a niche in St. Louis and Cole was a piece of two Stanley Cup winners. Can’t help but be pleased there.

Grade: B-

The enigma of Simon Despres was a talented youngster who the organization had reservations really committing to playing more. And one who made mistakes. They swapped him out for a more reliable and better pro in Ben Lovejoy, but also a more uninspiring vet. It worked well as Lovejoy was a good system fit and helped to win the Cup in 2016, but for value and asset purposes it seems like Despres wasn’t maximized as a trade chip. Regardless, Despres probably isn’t helping the Pens to win any Cups, so this trade had some utility even if it’s not going to be on a career best list.

Grade: D

Daniel Winnik was awful as a Penguin scoring just 2 goals in 26 games. But, this trade was salvaged being as the Pens got their second round pick in 2016 back from Toronto as part of the Phil Kessel trade (and used it to take Kaspar Bjorkqvist). So that worked out well. But this trade didn’t.

What do we see:

  • Lots of defense. Rutherford likes to add that extra depth piece around the deadline. That doesn’t really seem applicable this year being as the Pens are soon to have eight NHL defensemen, and he’s already done some tinkering in the last couple months adding Marcus Pettersson earlier in the season.
  • Draft picks as currency. The Pens are mainly dealing future draft picks for NHL rental talent. The Brassard trade seems to be an exception to the rule but it was also necessary to clear salary to be able to fit Brass, even at a reduced rate.
  • But no firsts for rentals. Pittsburgh has traded their first round picks every year since 2012, but they have never used it on a pure rental player, who is an impeding unrestricted free agent that summer.
  • And really no big splashes. Again the Brassard trade is an outlier, but generally Rutherford us just adding for depth/supporting players (Winnik, Lovejoy, Cole, Hainsey types) rather than trying to bring in impact players at the deadline.

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in 2019. With Brassard, and 2019 draft picks we should see pretty much how Rutherford chooses to negotiate the deadline.