Pens' Rutherford expects to lose Niskanen, Jokinen; could trade first-round draft pick
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is continuing his coaching search.
He isn't anticipating the new coach will have the team's high-profile, unrestricted free agents at his disposal.
Rutherford said Monday that unrestricted free agents Matt Niskanen and Jussi Jokinen, in particular, likely will play elsewhere next season.
Niskanen and Jokinen increased their respective values last season.
“I've talked with them,” Rutherford said. “I think both players would like to return. But they're also coming off good years.
“It's time for them to hit free agency and get their big contracts. With that being said, we'll see what happens leading up to free agency.”
Rutherford declined to comment on unrestricted free agent defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Niskanen's agent, Neil Sheehy, said he “isn't alarmed” by Rutherford's comments
“This is exactly what Jim had told us privately,” he said.
Sheehy said Niskanen “loves Pittsburgh” and hasn't ruled out returning.
However, Sheehy and Niskanen aren't engaging in negotiations with the Penguins until a new coach is named.
“The (identity) of the new coach is a big deal to Matt,” Sheehy said.
Rutherford has said numerous times he'd like to have a coach in place before free agency opens July 1. If that doesn't happen, dealing with players and agents could become problematic.
Niskanen told the Tribune-Review earlier this month he was paying close attention to the identity of the Penguins' new coach and said it could alter his decision.
“It will be (a problem) if we don't have a coach by July 1,” Rutherford said, referring to negotiations with free agents. “But we're right on track as to when I was hired, in terms of what I want to accomplish. I think the process has been really good.”
Rutherford also shed some light on his plans entering this weekend's draft in Philadelphia.
Rutherford said the Penguins are willing to trade their first-round selection — No. 22 overall — in return for a player who can help them win in the short term.
“We will trade that pick if it can help us get a player who can help us immediately,” Rutherford said.
The Penguins do not have selections in the second or third rounds of the draft because of trades involving defenseman Douglas Murray and right wing Lee Stempniak.
It doesn't sound likely they will jump into those rounds.
“Of course I'd be interested in adding picks,” Rutherford said. “You're always interested in adding picks. But I don't think it's reasonable at this point.
“I'm not going to move a player out of the organization who can help us right now just to get more picks.”
The Penguins are short on draft picks — and on impact forwards in the organization — because of former general manager Ray Shero's penchant for trading some of the future for the present. Although those moves did not deliver a Stanley Cup in the past five years, Rutherford refused to be critical of Shero's decisions.
“Those moves were made to give the Penguins a chance to win in the playoffs,” Rutherford said. “It was a valid reason to move them.”
Rutherford said Monday he has talked with multiple coaching candidates.
Former NHL coach Ron Wilson and Rangers assistant coach and former Penguin Ulf Samuelsson remain candidates.
New candidates also have entered the mix.
“I had a couple of guys that I considered top candidates who did not interview originally,” Rutherford said. “The reason was because I believed they were committed elsewhere and weren't available. Since then, I've contacted them to see if they have that commitment. Those are guys I'm going to be talking to.”
Rutherford said he knows the fan base is growing impatient, but he is committed to finding the right man.
“I know people are getting anxious,” he said. “The important thing is that we pick the right coach.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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