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New general manager Rutherford, Penguins in favor of short-term deals

| Sunday, July 6, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford addresses the media during a news conference Friday, June 6, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford addresses the media during a news conference Friday, June 6, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins aren't interested in long-term relationships these days.

General manager Jim Rutherford has signed six unrestricted free agents who could play prominent roles for the Penguins next season — defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, goaltender Thomas Greiss and forwards Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Marcel Goc and Zach Sill — in the opening days of the NHL free agency signing periods.

The six players, who could comprise more than one quarter of the Penguins' 2014-15 active roster, were all given one-year contracts.

“For right now,” Rutherford said, “I find that I'm very comfortable in dealing with one-year contracts.”

Many Penguins who have departed, even low-profile players like Joe Vitale, Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass, received three-year contracts from their new teams.

Rutherford, who stated at his introductory press conference that he will only remain as Penguins' GM for “two or three years,” could theoretically take an aggressive stance in free agency, potentially crippling the Penguins down the road for the sake of luring players to Pittsburgh with lucrative, lengthy contracts.

Instead, the Penguins — already being heavily reconstructed after another playoff flameout in May — could look dramatically different at this time next year and shouldn't be financially disadvantaged even after Rutherford has departed.

As things stand, the Penguins will have only eight sure NHL regulars — forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Patric Hornqvist, and defensemen Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Rob Scuderi — signed through the upcoming season.

Kunitz, Dupuis and Scuderi will all be 36 when the 2015-16 begins, giving the Penguins little insurance with young players moving forward.

Along with the six recently signed players, standouts like goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Paul Martin are also set to become free agents next summer.

Still, Rutherford appreciates having financial freedom during the summer months and believes the Penguins are in a low-risk position.

“I think the one-year deals that we've been giving players definitely help us in different ways,” he said. “What I like most about it is just how much flexibility it gives us moving forward.”

Agents rarely object to dealing with Rutherford.

“Not at all,” said Neil Sheehy, who is Matt Niskanen's agent. “Jim's a fair guy. Everyone likes dealing with him.”

Rutherford wasn't totally against offering long-term deals.

In the case of center Brandon Sutter, he would prefer to orchestrate a longer contract so the 25-year-old won't be able to hit unrestricted free agency next summer.

A one-year deal wasn't mandatory for some of the players the Penguins signed last week.

“Certainly if someone would have asked for an extra year with these deals we just signed,” Rutherford said, “it's something I very much would have considered.”

Still, saving money — and maintaining roster flexibility, should things again not work out in the postseason — remains important for Rutherford.

The salary cap is set for $69 million next season, and while it figures to increase into the future, there are no certainties.

“The fact is that we don't know where the cap is going,” Rutherford said. “So this puts us in a strong position going forward.”

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