Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has no shortage of trade chips to play | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has no shortage of trade chips to play

Jonathan Bombulie
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Phil Kessel cranks up a shot that beats Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

As Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford wrapped up an uneventful trip to Vancouver for last weekend’s NHL Draft, he admitted the next few days — the time leading up to the start of the league’s free-agent signing period Monday — would be his best chance to make the deals he wants to make to reshape his roster.

As that moment approaches, though, it is worth wondering how many options he really has.

He presides over a team that was swept out of the first round of the playoffs after a shaky regular season. Are teams really going to be clamoring to add Penguins players in trades?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer appears to be yes.

Outside of the Penguins hockey bubble, several players who have seen their names pop up in trade rumors this summer seem to have quite a bit of perceived value, an NHL scout said this week.

Take Phil Kessel for example.

His restrictive no-trade clause is, obviously, a serious impediment to a move. And coaches of teams who potentially might acquire Kessel almost certainly bristle at the idea of trying to fit his unconventional style and personality into their system.

But as far as on-ice hockey talent goes, Kessel is still a catch.

“It’s a whole different situation because Phil holds the keys to the camper,” the scout said. “He controls it. He’s already done it once. Where does he want to go? It’s a real specific scenario. But if my GM said we could get him, you’ve got to have a spot for him, but if you do, he’d be great. On the power play especially.

“You’ve got to hide him at times, but that’s top-end skill, no doubt. He’s not going to backcheck. He’s not in great shape. He’s all those things. But he’s a high-end talent, and when the chips are on the line, Phil Kessel rises to the occasion.”

In many corners of the Penguins fanbase, defenseman Jack Johnson has come to be the chief scapegoat for the team’s failures, and there are plenty of facts to back up that notion. Among defensemen who played at least 20 games for the Penguins last season, he was the only one on the ice for more goals against than goals for at even strength.

With four years left on a contract that pays him $3.25 million annually, some critics have deemed Johnson untradeable. That appears to be an exaggeration.

“He’s big. He can log minutes. He can skate. He just has brain (cramps). That’s the problem,” the scout said. “Sometimes, those things get magnified, and you can’t get over them. That’s the problem sometimes with coaches or management. They watch, and he makes a point-blank mistake and they’re like, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’

“But if you get him and accept him and say he’s a fourth or fifth defenseman who logs a lot of minutes, then fine. His number’s a little high for the type of player he is, but I think there’s value there. He’s not going to be the best defensive player in the league, but he can defend the better players in the league on most nights.”

Because he will require waivers to be sent to the AHL again in the fall, goalie Tristan Jarry has seen his name in trade rumors more than most this offseason.

Because of Jarry’s waiver situation, a team that acquires him would have to be willing to use him as their NHL back-up pretty much immediately. Does such a team exist?

“I think so,” the scout said. “I think a lower-level team that has a really good No. 1, I would take a chance on Tristan Jarry. I’d give him 10 or 15 games and see what kind of goalie he’s going to be. It’s a risk. You could maybe wait and get him on waivers. But I like what he brings.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all offseason long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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