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Trying to decipher Jim Rutherford’s offseason messages

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The tone seems to have changed over the past couple of months.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Media Day Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It is still early, but it has been a mostly quiet offseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins when it comes to the roster and team personnel. Other than trading Olli Maatta for Dominik Kahun, everyone else on the roster is still right where they were this past season.

When it comes to speculation and rumors, the offseason has been complete madness and it started almost as soon as the Penguins were done shaking the New York Islanders’ hands at center ice of PPG Paints Arena.

Phil Kessel seemed to already be shipped out of town.

General manager Jim Rutherford was once again critical of the players for not coming together as a team the way he wanted them to, while once again suggesting some players had become a little too comfortable and that changes would be necessary.

In response to trade rumors involving Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Rutherford repeatedly refused to guarantee they would be on the team next season or comment on their long-term outlook in Pittsburgh.

He also said he would be waiting a bit before working on new contract extensions for starting goalie Matt Murray and Mike Sullivan.

Everything, it seemed, was on the brink of chaos and it was fair to assume that maybe a big change or two could be coming to the core of the team.

That is why it was so funny to hear Rutherford say this past week that he didn’t understand why anyone thought they were would be major changes to the team and there would probably only be minor tweaks.

It seems to be a change in tone from the GM, so let us try to decipher what he has meant this offseason and why perhaps the direction of the offseason has changed so much.

Theory 1: Cooler and saner heads prevailed in the front office

This would be the ideal situation.

Jim Rutherford is an ultra competitive guy and in a lot of ways still has a player mentality, right down to barely speaking to anyone on game days.

He wants to win, he expects to win, and when he does not win he is going to be frustrated and emotional. He even admitted immediately after the playoffs that his emotions were running high and he would need to take a step back to let everything settle and look at it again.

Do you know what you do when you are frustrated? You sometimes say or do dumb things that you ultimately do not mean or regret.

You would like to believe that over the two months between the end of the playoffs and the start of the offseason that Rutherford and his team in the front office came to the realization that, “you know ... if we trade Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang that means we no longer have Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang and that probably does not get us closer to another championship.”

You would like to believe that.

Theory 2: He tried to make big changes but was not able to do so for reasons beyond his control

Unfortunately this could be the more likely outcome because we know he had Phil Kessel traded to the Minnesota Wild until Kessel used his no-trade clause to veto the move (which is a really smart move by Kessel because the Wild ... I do not know what that team is doing).

Basically every core player that could have been a trade candidate had a contract that complicated such a move. Maybe it was the size of the salary cap hit and no logical team being able to take on that sort of contract or being in a position to do so. Maybe it was a no-trade clause getting in the way. Maybe it was the simple fact that no team offered a return that justified such a seismic shift in the direction of franchise (and my point on this still remains the same: No team is likely to ever make an offer that justifies trading an Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang).

With no ability to make the trade or changes he wants, he has to act like he never wanted to do anything.

Theory 3: He never wanted to make changes and just wanted to rattle some cages

The old “if they all hate me they can’t hate each other” approach.

The theory here is that he knows the talent on the team is good, he knows the players are the right ones and is better off having them all on his team next season, and he just wanted to try and light a little fire under them and put a little bit of a scare into them to get their attention.

This seems like the least likely possibility, and probably a pretty substantial reach to try and figure out the method to his madness, but it is not like coaches or executives have not tried it before.

What are your thoughts on why the message and tone from the GM has seemingly changed so much over the past couple of months?

Poll

What is going on with Jim Rutherford and the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Theory 1: Cooler and saner heads prevailed
    (187 votes)
  • 63%
    Theory 2: He wanted to make changes but was simply unable to
    (570 votes)
  • 15%
    Theory 3: He just wanted to rattle some cages and get some players attention
    (136 votes)
893 votes total Vote Now