When he traded defenseman Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford jumped feet-first into the busiest time of the offseason.
The NHL Draft is set for next weekend in Vancouver. On July 1, the league’s free-agent signing period opens.
It’s prime time for Rutherford and the league’s other 30 GMs to retool and reshape their rosters heading into next season.
Here is a look at three pressing issues the Penguins must deal with during that time.
The Phil Kessel situation
If circumstances don’t change, the only thing the Penguins have to do to resolve the Kessel situation is hang a No. 81 jersey in his locker in September and proceed with business as usual.
Let’s face it, though. Circumstances probably are going to change.
The Penguins decided last month the first thing they would do to try to become a team that’s more defensively responsible and less lackadaisical with the puck was to ship Kessel, reportedly to Minnesota for winger Jason Zucker. Kessel exercised his limited no-trade clause to nix the deal.
Could Kessel decide he doesn’t want to play in a place where he’s considered part of the problem, not part of the solution, and therefore relax his stance on where he can be moved? Absolutely.
Could one of the eight teams to which Kessel can be traded without his consent make an offer Rutherford feels comfortable with? No question.
Monitoring changing conditions will be a big part of Rutherford’s job in the next week or two.
Pick it up
While the trades will steal the headlines, the draft remains the fundamental method for building championship teams. For the first time since they took Kasperi Kapanen in 2014, the Penguins will have the chance to make a selection in the first round.
The last four times the Penguins took a player in the range they’re selecting Friday night, they chose Kapanen, Maatta, Joe Morrow and Beau Bennett. None became a superstar, but all became bona fide NHL players.
Because this is considered a deep draft, especially at forward, the Penguins can expect to get a player at the high end of that talent range if they choose wisely.
Goalie on the go
It looks like the rubber finally will meet the road for goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry.
Now 24, Jarry has developed just fine since the Penguins drafted him in the second round in 2013, but he was beaten by Casey DeSmith in the race to back up Matt Murray and the sands in his waivers hourglass have run out.
Trading Jarry, if they can find a taker, would be preferable to losing him on waivers in September.