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Penguins GM Jim Rutherford plans to shop for muscle this offseason

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, June 15, 2017, 8:45 p.m.
The Penguins' Steve Oleksy and the Devils' Miles Wood fight in the second period Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Steve Oleksy and the Devils' Miles Wood fight in the second period Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at PPG Paints Arena.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford speaks during media day for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final Sunday, May 28, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford speaks during media day for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final Sunday, May 28, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.

When Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford starts to put together next season's roster in the next few weeks, there will be something near the top of his shopping list that didn't necessarily appear there the previous few years.

Muscle.

Rutherford said Thursday he would like to add a player or two who can help protect star center Sidney Crosby from the physical abuse he often takes from opponents.

Crosby was hacked, whacked, pushed, shoved and goaded throughout much of the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa.

The most violent blow he took, however, came when he suffered a concussion on a Matt Niskanen cross-check to the head in the third game of a second-round series with Washington.

Rutherford raised the issue before the Stanley Cup Final began. Commissioner Gary Bettman essentially dismissed his comments as an attempt to influence officiating in the final series against Nashville.

Rutherford reiterated his concerns Thursday, saying his previous remarks were not born from anger or frustration.

“I wasn't mad. And it's not just about Sid,” Rutherford said. “It's about all the top players in the league. You've got (Edmonton's Connor) McDavid. You've got (Toronto's Auston) Matthews. You've got all these young guys coming behind Sid.

“I just feel that we're getting to a point, in some cases, where the hits are becoming more than hits. They're more of an impact where it can end a player's career. Basically, what I'm saying is, we need to be stricter on those calls.”

In the absence of change in enforcement of the rules, Rutherford said the Penguins will have to take matters into their own hands.

He stopped short of saying the team will try to acquire a traditional enforcer whose greatest strength is his ability to fight.

“We are going to try to add a player or two that maybe we can have more protection in our lineup,” Rutherford said. “That's not that easy because (coach Mike Sullivan) likes to roll four lines and you've got to plug a guy in that can play on a regular basis, but hopefully that's what we can do.”

The Penguins recorded 12 fighting majors this season, second fewest in the league to Carolina's six. Evgeni Malkin led the team with 77 penalty minutes.

Tom Sestito led the team with three fighting majors despite playing just 13 NHL games this season. Sestito will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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