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Penguins notebook: Rutherford begins pondering expansion draft proposal

| Wednesday, March 16, 2016, 5:06 p.m.

Never hesitant about reconfiguring parts of the roster, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford views the proposed guidelines for a potential NHL expansion draft as just another instance for him to deliberate who stays and who goes.

The proposals, released Wednesday at the general manager meetings in Florida, stipulate that if an expansion team is approved, each of the league's 30 teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. First- and second-year pros are exempt from the draft. Whether players with no-movement and no-trade clauses in their contracts, which afford them permission to approve where they go, are eligible remains an unresolved issue between the league and the NHL Players' Association.

“They're still trying to iron out those details,” said Rutherford, who emphasized that all of these matters are secondary until expansion, likely to either Las Vegas or Quebec City, is approved. “When you have to make decisions, you're going to want to have as many options as possible, but whatever the guidelines are, we'll find a way to work within it.”

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury have no-movement clauses, and Patric Hornqvist has a no-trade clause, according to generalfanager.com.

Teams can lose only one player if there's one expansion club, Rutherford said. They can lose two players if the NHL expands to 32 teams.

If the expansion occurs and the draft happens ahead of the 2017-18 season — the earliest possibility, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, according to NHL.com — the Penguins might find themselves debating whether to protect Fleury or Matt Murray, not to mention several of their younger defensemen. But Rutherford considers the demand placed upon each of the 30 teams understandable when accounting for the league's estimated expansion fee of $500 million.

“I'm sure that when an expansion teams comes in and has an expansion fee like they have, they're going to want to be able to pick good players,” Rutherford said. “It'll create issues for all teams. ... I'm sure it'll cause us to make some decisions we wouldn't normally be making.”

Goalie gear

The general manager meetings also produced a consensus on the league's need to address goalie equipment sizes. There's widespread support for smaller, streamlined pads as a means to increase scoring.

“We let this get out of hand as a league,” said Rutherford, a goaltender in his playing career. “We've tried to clamp down on it for some time now. But now it seems like we have cooperation from all parties, and the manufacturers are so much better at making equipment the way you need to make it. They can clearly make it smaller and have it be just as protective, so I am in agreement with that (proposal).”

Because of the length of his gangly limbs, the 6-foot-4 Murray needed a customized chest-and-arm protector even before he reached the NHL. He became a big fan of tailored gear after a puck broke a bone in a marginally protected part of his arm during his youth hockey days.

“Right now, there's obviously no holes in our equipment, so that's the only thing I'd be worried about, is just sometimes you get hit in practice or even in a game in a certain spot, and it can hurt pretty bad,” Murray said. “That's my only concern in the change with the rules for the pads. ... Just tapering everything I think is the right play.”

Fleury sees equipment shrinkage as a way to showcase the flexible style he embraces.

“It's a reason why I try not to bulk up as much,” Fleury said. “I like to move around. That's part of my game. But everybody will be a little lighter. ... There are some guys that look real big in there that aren't that big. But I don't know. We're goalies. We're just trying to stop the puck.”

Evolving aches

The statuses of defenseman Ben Lovejoy and wingers Scott Wilson and Beau Bennett have become matters of semantics.

Wilson, re-evaluated Tuesday for an unspecified injury after taking a hit in Friday's game against Columbus, likely is out “longer term” rather than day to day, coach Mike Sullivan said. But the coach said he awaits the results of further assessments from the Penguins' medical staff and more definitive answers.

Sullivan earlier this week described Lovejoy, who suffered an upper-body injury Feb. 20, as “ready” but in need of more practices. After Wednesday's practice, one in which Lovejoy participated, Sullivan clarified his comments.

“Ben is ahead of his schedule, his timeframe that our medical staff had allotted,” Sullivan said. “When we put guys back in the lineup, we try to put them in a position to be successful, so it's more than just being healthy. It's being healthy and then having an opportunity to get your timing back and get in some intensity drills so that you're in a game-like scenario. ... That's the stage we're at with Ben.”

And Bennett, who aggravated an upper-body injury Jan. 23, offered a more optimistic outlook of his status than his coach.

“I feel like my timing, my speed is where it needs to be,” Bennett said. “It's just all about getting into a game and getting some contact.”

Said Sullivan: “Beau will be closer to a return when our medical staff and Beau come to a decision that he's ready to play, and that hasn't occurred yet.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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