Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the media on Monday afternoon following the trade deadline. Pittsburgh acquired defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward Tanner Pearson in their biggest move of the day. To add depth they also grabbed defenseman Chris Wideman from the Florida Panthers for Jean-Sebastien Dea, with Wideman reporting to the AHL.
“We have issues on defense with injuries,” Rutherford’s first comments were after formally announcing the trades. “I don’t know some of the statuses of these guys,” he said, referring to Olli Maatta (out indefinitely with a badly separate shoulder), Brian Dumoulin (concussed on Saturday) and Kris Letang (believed to suffered a neck injury on Saturday).
“Even without the injuries, getting the type of player that Gudbranson is, [that] was something we talked about for a while. He wasn’t available, to my knowledge, until today - so we’re very pleased to bring Erik in to join the team.”
Rutherford took questions as follows. Here’s his own words to get a sense of what he was thinking and looking to add.
On if it was important to add size:
“Yeah. We’re comfortable in a sense with [Zach] Aston-Reese and [Garrett] Wilson, guys that can push back in those more physical games. But having another guy, especially on the back end is going to give more of a comfort level”
Did the events vs San Jose change his mind for the deadline:
“No not really. We’ve always felt that way - but you have to find somebody that is available and that can come into your team and play a little bit. There’s some guys out there, but they wouldn’t fit our team. The nice thing about Erik is he’s a character guy, he’s a team guy. He’s going to help in the room. He’s going to make guys feel more comfortable. He’s got experience playing in the league.”
On if Rutherford, like Sullivan, is “encouraged” about Letang’s status:
“Yeah. I think since he was injured the other night we’re encouraged to the point that we’re still not exactly sure when he’s coming back. He’s not coming back tomorrow night. But based on what could happen with those injuries, we’re definitely encouraged.
On if the Pens are preparing for Letang to be out “weeks and weeks”
Has he had a year where he’s made this many trades?
“Coming out of camp, we knew we were [going] to make some changes. The fact that we traded Pearson [so soon] after we acquired him doesn’t mean we didn’t like him. We were looking for somebody that would produce a little more than [Carl] Hagelin did and Pearson did that. But at that the same time, when you have a chance to get a player like Gudbranson you have to give somebody for him.
We made most of these moves early enough [in the season] that it shouldn’t take a long time for guys to fit in. Hopefully Gudbranson can fit in pretty quick, there’s not a lot of margin for error here down the stretch and we definitely need defensemen.”
On the timing of the Gudbranson deal, if it happened all today:
“I wouldn’t say it was later in the day. I was available he could be available within the last week. Then just talking about things about who we might make available [back]. It took until this time to make that decision what direction we wanted to go.”
On if the 2019 first round pick almost got traded before the deadline:
“No, it didn’t. This is a year we’re on the bubble to get in [the playoffs]. I did not want to risk that. But also it’s a very good draft and it was important this year to keep that pick.”
On trading Jamie Oleksiak and how that changed the defense picture:
“The Oleksiak trade was part of going forward, to make room to make the trade with Florida. And [also] where he fit in the lineup and whether he was going to play regularly. So that was made for that reason.
With Gudbranson becoming available and the situation with the injuries, the landscape changed again, so we needed that player.”
Why not promote minor leaguers instead of making trades:
“We didn’t have enough guys there that could come in and do what we wanted, but [Zach] Trotman will come in, we’re recalling him and he’ll play tomorrow.”
Was Gudbranson being right handed important:
“At this point it didn’t matter as much that we had [Justin] Schultz back and [Chad] Ruhwedel playing, but right handed shots are hard to find.”
On inconsistency and how he feels about the team down the stretch:
“We’re good enough to get in, we’re good enough to take a run. We’ve played stretches against top teams and we’ve played well. but there’s some inconsistencies in our play. We have to have everything going that makes you a good team. Our goaltending has to be consistent and strong. We have to get healthy on defense - hopefully we can do that by this weekend. And our forwards have to do what they’re capable of doing.
I feel comfortable with this team but I say that at this time, being a little bit nervous whether we’ll get in. It’s going to be a battle to the end. But we’re certainly good enough to get in and take a run.”
On Teddy Blueger being sent to the minors:
He wasn’t going to be in the lineup tomorrow, so the non-waiver guys it’s kinda a paper transaction, [Juuso] Riikola also. We won’t hesitate to recall him, he played very well. We’re only going to have 12 forwards tomorrow night, we’re going to have nine active defensemen. But they’re active on the roster, but they’re injured, we don’t want to put them on the IR. So we had to juggle the numbers around to get to 23 and Teddy Blueger gets caught up in it.”
On what it means to acquire defensemen with bad analytical stats, what is it he’s looking for? What is it your seeing that won’t be the case? (ATTA BOY ROSSI ON THE FINAL QUESTION SOMEONE ASKS A MODERATELY INTERESTING ONE!)
“Well it might still be the case [that he will have poor advanced stats], but that doesn’t describe why you want certain players. In Erik’s case he’s a real heart and soul guy. He’s a good dressing room guy. He’s got good character. He can protect our players, he puts us in stronger position to push back when we get into more physical games.
As you know, there’s some teams just play a skating, skill game. There are some teams that play physical. He’s going to bring that element that will help us.”
Well, good news first - by the sounds of it the Pens are hoping there’s a chance Letang and Dumoulin are back as soon as this coming weekend. So that’s a positive to perhaps only have to make it through one game without the top two defensemen on the team.
And the bad news - well, Rutherford openly and proudly had no problem admitting in his final question that he’s dismissive of the actual analytics in a defenseman’s play if he’s big and physical. It’s not encouraging to hear the GM crow about “heart and soul”, “good dressing room guy”, “character guy”, “team guy” and “physical element” as about all positive you can say about a player.
Especially when shot and goal based metrics show a disastrous player at, you know, actually playing the sport of NHL hockey. Gudbranson has been way out of his element and is a tire-fire when it comes to playing any semblance of passable defense, but Rutherford didn’t mind in the least. For now he’s happy to add size and muscle to a team he feels needs it.