The addition of Jan Rutta via a free agent signing yesterday gave the Penguins a good problem to have, especially for an NHL team. They have too many NHL-caliber defensemen. But a good problem is still a problem, or at least an area that will require some clean up work. General manager Ron Hextall laid that reality out yesterday at a press conference following the active first day of the league’s free agency.
Hextall: "If we could move a defenseman maybe for a forward - or if we could move a defenseman for futures – those are the types of things that we'll be looking at. I don't know when or where." Said it can be easier evaluate once the dust settles after free agency."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) July 13, 2022
And, wouldn’t you know it, just as Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford caught up at the draft in Montreal last week (pictured above), the former Pittsburgh GM turned Vancouver Canucks Team President finds himself in the opposite scenario.
Vancouver Canucks feel they’ve improved up front, but recognize they have to upgrade their blue line. They intend to that via trade and will need time to develop possibilities.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 13, 2022
Both the Dreger nugget and Hextall himself show that time is not of the essence right now. The dust hasn’t settled from today around the league, and now with 32 teams, there are more possibilities than ever for teams to go in just about any direction to find what they think is the right price and pieces to move around to fill their needs.
The prospect of Rutherford, and Vancouver GM Patrik Allvin, dipping back into their past to use their knowledge about the Pens is a natural fit. It also helps that both are known to be at least fairly bullish on Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and especially John Marino.
Another interesting piece could be Kasperi Kapanen, a player that certainly has been favored by Rutherford. After signing Rutta (and Josh Archibald), the salary cap space in Pittsburgh is of critical importance.
It also in Vancouver, which means any type of trade will likely be close in salaries going in either direction. Vancouver represents just one of many teams, but definitely is a natural pairing that could have something deeper to work with.
As of now, Rutta is a curious addition that Hextall shed some light about what the reasoning behind it was.
Hextall said they wanted to get a little heavier on the back end, and accomplished that by signing Rutta. "We added a little bit of the girth that we feel like we need in front of the net and in penalty killing situations."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) July 13, 2022
Listed officially at 6’3 and 204 pounds, Rutta ranks second in both categories among defenders on his new team, behind Brian Dumoulin. Rutta’s 93 hits and 71 blocked shots last year would not have ranked all that highly, he’s not a typical “physical” defender but does have the type of frame and heft that has been lacking to defend the front of the net for the Pens in recent years.
Rutta has also been playing in the 14-16 minute range with the Lightning, though has been ascending a bit. Do the Penguins really see him as a more than a third pairing player? Does Rutta open up space via a trade? That would seem a big ask.
And it’s a question that the Pens will have to resolve in the summer at some point.