Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford got named to the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday, but as blunt as ever his focus is firmly on the task at hand.
Rutherford on where he goes from here: "Probably back to my office to see if I can change this team like I have for the past two months." #Pens— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) June 25, 2019
At this point, we take him at his word but where will the change come from? Pittsburgh traded defenseman Olli Maatta to Chicago for forward Dominik Kahun. The building consensus, though unofficial, is that 42-year old Matt Cullen has played his last game with the Pens, and likely the NHL. Other than that, no real changes have been made to the team that got swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
And — oh yeah — Rutherford’s only $4.7 million under the cap and still has three restricted free agents to deal with, so he basically is a non-factor for free agents unless there are trades to clear it up.
So let’s go into our own virtual office and go down the list of where this change may come from.
Sidney Crosby - no more needs said.
Safe as safe can be
Evgeni Malkin - he has a full no movement clause and Rutherford has admitted it was a bit too hasty for anyone to make an inference that Malkin isn’t going to be on the team going forward. (Never mind, you know, the pretty naked implications JR also made earlier this summer that Malkin might not be a lock to be on the team going forward).
But the emotions have blown over and cooler heads have seemingly prevailed with future plans this summer for coach Mike Sullivan to travel and visit Geno, get on the same page and presumably do a little bit of damage control for the organization to get a reset with the “other” star center.
Still, with that full NMC and the loyalty of an ownership group Malkin has helped bring three championships, he’s not going anywhere until the day HE doesn’t want to play in Pittsburgh.
Jake Guentzel - just signed an extension of $6.0 million that already seems somewhat like a bargain. Makes no sense to trade the best player to mesh with Crosby at a prime age who does everything well that is asked of him.
Matt Murray - he was one of the league’s best goalies in the second half of the season and is far more likely to be re-signed this summer to an extension then anything involving a trade out of town.
Casey DeSmith - had a great season, signed a three year extension last season, showing all you need to know about management’s satisfaction in their back up. Nothing there has changed.
Patric Hornqvist - you might be surprised to see him in the safety zone, since Hornqvist had a tough second half of the season. But did you know Hornqvist has a full no trade clause in 2019-20? As the Pens have found out this off-season, can’t trade a guy in such a situation unless he agrees to it. Thus, Hornqvist is as safe to return to Pittsburgh as he wants to be.
Kris Letang - similar to Malkin, Rutherford has backed away and said the defensemen is likely with the club next season. Since JR didn’t dump Letang for peanuts at the draft, it doesn’t make sense to do it deeper into the off-season.
Brian Dumoulin - a top-pair defenseman that’s prime age and a reasonable $4.1 million cap hit? Nothing to see here as far as a trade goes.
Chad Ruhwedel - signed for NHL minimum wage ($700k) recently. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t want him again in a depth role.
Young, cheap and no real reason to trade
Jared McCann - the Pens don’t have a lot of NHL caliber young players. McCann is one and flashed last season and is cheap for the upcoming year. That’s definitely a guy everyone is excited to see more of.
Dominik Kahun - just acquired and makes $925k. Wouldn’t make sense to send him away.
Dominik Simon - a bargain at $750k. It wouldn’t break many hearts to trade him, but given the salary cap circumstances Simon would be a tough player to replace.
Teddy Blueger + Zach Aston-Reese - both low maintenance restricted free agents that will work for not too much money.
Probably not, but maybe they should
Erik Gudbranson - what better time to sell high than after a solid sample in Pittsburgh? At $4.0 million an offensively limited defensive defenseman who doesn’t skate well or fit the coach’s preferred style of play is a “luxury” the team is probably better off not having at this point.
Jack Johnson - encouragingly, Johnson was involved trade talks with Minnesota. This is the part in the media where his contract is mentioned, as if bad defensive defensemen aren’t about to get four year contract offers (or longer) this summer. If the Pens really wanted to they could probably make it happen. But with Maatta also gone, they may feel they need to keep a veteran left-side defenseman, even if he got worst-in-team results last season.
Now it’s getting interesting
Justin Schultz - only has one year left on his contract, can block a trade to 10 teams. As Josh Yohe told us on the Pensburgh Podcast, Schultz signed his most recent deal as three years in a climate where the Pens were signing players like Dumoulin long-term. Schultz has been setting himself up to hit the open market. Can Pittsburgh afford him? Would they trade him? The hole he would leave on the right side of the depth chart would be massive, so perhaps not.
But he might have some real value as a pretty good player on a pretty good cap hit. Either way, it’s worth exploring and considering all options.
Bryan Rust - Rust ran super cold and super hot last season production-wise, even if his process stayed fairly consistent and strong. But at $3.5 million his contract is fairly big, and his value might be such that moving him brings back a piece. If the Pens want change, someone has to go, and Rust is one of the few options with value and lacking any trade protection.
Nick Bjugstad - At $4.1 million for two years, Bjugstad is no bargain. Not an anchor either. But isn’t very dynamic (and when is the last less-than-dynamic forward that’s excelled under Sullivan?). If some other team is enamored with his size or third line ability, it could be an opportunity to change a piece on the board. Not sure how feasible or what value coming back would be, but a possible chance for change.
Tristan Jarry - makes sense to move him if possible since his contract will pay him full NHL salary if/when he’s assigned to the minors. And he has to clear waivers to get there. But because of that last sentence and because he’s unestablished at the NHL level, don’t expect much return. Who gives up a lot in a trade for a player who might be on waiver soon (or they might have to waive if he doesn’t work out). Moving Jarry at this point is probably more just a favor to give him a chance to stick on an NHL roster somewhere else.
In a heartbeat
Phil Kessel - Rutherford has admitted Phil will likely be back next year, and seems fine enough with it on the surface, but if Kessel changed his mind and would accept a trade to Minnesota, the trade would be completed in seconds. And who knows if a team he can’t block will come out of the woodwork and make an offer for him. Seems unlikely, but four years ago at this time Kessel thought he had boxed himself into staying in Toronto, only to be traded on July 1.