While there is still a big question mark hanging over the 2019-20 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, general managers around the league already have one eye on the offseason, including Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford.
With so much uncertainty still in the air, teams have to be ready for all possible scenarios, including the possibility the NHL cancels the remaining portion of the season and heads directly into the offseason. Although the NHL has reiterated its stance that their main goal is to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup, it still remains unclear if that will be a tenable solution.
One major part of any NHL offseason is the annual NHL Draft, which from the looks of it, may go off in June whether or not the 2019-20 season is completed. Another major aspect of the NHL offseason is free agency, a process that cannot play out until the season is either completed or cancelled for obvious reasons.
For the Penguins, much of their offseason plans will hinge on free agency. Unless something drastic happens before any type of draft, the Penguins will be without a pick until the third round. This means most of Jim Rutherford’s offseason focus will be on free agency where the veteran general manager will have some decisions to make.
One of the biggest decisions Rutherford will have to make this offseason is deciding what to do with his goaltenders. Both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry will be restricted free agents this offseason and both will be due a substantial pay raise.
According to Josh Yohe over at The Athletic, Rutherford will well aware of what lies in front of him and knows some difficult decisions will have to be made.
The Penguins’ salary cap space is always limited and, while it’s impossible to determine what the salary cap figure will be for the 2020-21 season, the number won’t be as high as originally projected and won’t be as high as the current $81.5 million figure.
“We know that much,” Rutherford said. “It’s certainly not going up. And that is going to give us some very, very difficult decisions.”
Given the uncertainty of the salary cap and the reality that the Penguins already have more than $68 million committed to their 2020-21 roster, keeping both goaltenders seems like quite a challenge.
“Well,” Rutherford said, “I’ll say this: If we are going to keep both of them, we’d have to move a few things around on our team. There is a way to do things and to make that work, yes. There are some very, very tough decisions ahead.”
Based on those quotes, we can deduce a few different things and get a small look inside Rutherford’s thinking. He knows full well they can keep both goaltenders with they want to, but it will come at the expense of other guys on the roster. On the other hand, Rutherford seems willing to move a goaltender and keep as much of the roster intact as possible.
Prior to the season hiatus, the NHL projected the salary cap to rise, giving cap strapped teams like the Penguins more breathing room. Even if the season does resume at some point, the loss of revenue to this point makes it an almost certainty the cap ceiling will decrease.
Many believe the NHL will offer teams a lifeline to get out of cap trouble should the number slide significantly, but the Penguins will still be pinching pennies wherever possible. That may mean one of Murray and Jarry are wearing a different sweater next season.
“It’s an obvious answer if you’re asking me if I want to keep them together,” Rutherford said. “We will be a better hockey team if we have both of those guys on our roster next year...Will we be able to keep them together because of the cap? It’s going to be tough. It gets a lot tighter when you know the number isn’t going up.”
This is not an envious position to be in for Rutherford, he clearly likes both goalies, but in a salary cap league knows he may not have a decision but to let one go. His decision will come down to the Stanley Cup winning pedigree but inconsistency of Murray, or the small sample size but promising development of Jarry.
Reading between the lines of the Rutherford quotes, the best guess seems to be that he knows he will have to sacrifice one goaltender for the good of the team. While he undoubtedly wished he could keep both on the roster for another season, the reality of our current situation may force his hand whenever decision time arrives.
What decision would you like to see Jim Rutherford make?
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Keep Murray; Lose Jarry
Keep Jarry; Lose Murray