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Penguins’ GM Jim Rutherford’s season-closing comments do not inspire confidence that team will improve

Oh, no...

2017 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After the players addressed the media earlier in the day, it was time for management. As usual, general manager Jim Rutherford didn’t disappoint in giving lots of details. Some of those details though don’t sound very encouraging for the future of the Penguins.

Emotion is normal after just being swept in the first round. Let’s hope that dies down and some logic is applied, because what Rutherford went on to detail didn’t sound very logical, especially his take on how the team’s defense performed this season.

The Penguins this season by the way were:

  • 26th in the NHL in total shots allowed (33.3 per game)
  • 29th in total 5v5 Corsi events allowed
  • 25th in total 5v5 Fenwick events allowed
  • 16th in total 5v5 scoring chances allowed
  • 17th in 5v5 high danger scoring chances allowed

(Stats via Natural Stat Trick)

That’s bottom-half of the league in everything, and near absolute bottom in most. The only stats defensively they excelled under were goaltending performances.

The “push back” elements of the defense, no doubt referring to acquiring Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson in the past 12 months have been a mixed bag at best. When considering the combined salary cap hit of that is $7.25 million the proposition sours further. Current results defensively were below-average.

If Rutherford intended hey we got Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang as a great top pair, Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta to be top-four guys and then some depth, that’s one thing. To assume the path forward is with more players like Johnson and Gudbranson, that’s another very different and very not good thing.

One would think the changes start with Maatta, a healthy scratch down the stretch in the playoffs. Would it expand to Phil Kessel? Patric Hornqvist? Bryan Rust?

A question I would ask is how tight-knit can a team get when the GM trades six of the 23 players that start the season in a four month stretch? And that doesn’t even count Tanner Pearson who got traded to and then traded out in the season! Perhaps GM meddling and the tinkering of constant trades would prohibit building chemistry? Just a thought.

As Gretz wrote yesterday for NBC, the Pens roster composition and construction in the last two years has been unsettled at best, at worst a complete change of direction from what brought them success in 2016 and 2017:

The most confusing thing about all of it is the roster construction and many of the moves seem — emphasis on seem — to be at odds with the way the coach has wanted the team to play from the day he arrived behind the bench. I know nothing of the working relationship between Rutherford and Sullivan and whether they remain on the same page as to how the team is built, but the optics of it all just seem strange.

They paid a significant price for Reaves, and the coach didn’t play him. The general manager championed the signing of Johnson all season, and despite playing in all 82 regular season games was deemed to be not worth a roster spot in the first game of the playoffs. A team that wants to play fast and beat teams in transition and with puck possession, suddenly has an inconsistent transition and possession game because the players on the back end can’t make the necessary plays to feed it.

But a bad series for individual players happens, and sometimes they are even understandable and defensible because even the best players have bad stretches.

What is not understandable and defensible is willingly taking yourself away from something that worked. That is what the Penguins did, and it is a big part of why their season ended up going the way it did.

The moves they make this summer will tell us a lot as to what they learned from it.

As of these comments, it doesn’t look like much was learned. We can all see after not winning a single playoff game this season, the Pens have a long way to go. Changes will be made and players will come and go.

Can Rutherford recapture what he did to build this team in his early days? Or will his vision result in more pain that the team has suffered through lately? Hopefully the team can identify exactly what they need, and then go out and make it happen.