It's the season of dealing for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford
It's hard to say whether a trade or two could shake the Penguins out of the funk that has enveloped them most of this season.
They're trapped in a vicious cycle of failing to finish scoring chances, forcing plays to try to create the next scoring opportunity, and when that doesn't work, giving up high-quality chances coming back the other way.
As 2018 dawns, they've lost seven of their last 10 games, falling to 10th place in the Eastern Conference, three points out of a playoff spot, and they've come by that position honestly.
It's also hard to say whether general manager Jim Rutherford could make a significant move at this point if he wanted to.
Opposing GMs aren't going to help the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions out of the goodness of their hearts, so he would have to find a trading partner feeling an equal degree of desperation.
One thing is for sure, though.
If Rutherford finds a deal he likes, he won't be shy about pulling the trigger. He has made 160 deals in more than two decades as a general manager, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
“Jim works extremely hard every day to try to improve our team and does everything within his power to help us get better,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He's diligent in that regard. He has so much experience in his position that he has a real good feel for where our team is at and what our needs may be. If an opportunity presents itself for him to try to improve our team, he's going to do it.”
During his long managing career, Rutherford has earned a reputation as a dealer who is not constrained by the calendar. He won't wait for the trade deadline to make his big move.
A look at his trade history bears out that reputation. Like all GMs, Rutherford has made most of his deals around the draft and start of free agency (36.9 percent) and in the lead-up to the NHL trade deadline (31.9 percent).
His most transformative deals with the Penguins probably have come in the summer, such as when he picked up Phil Kessel from Toronto and Nick Bonino from Vancouver in July 2015.
What separates Rutherford from his GM brethren on the trade calendar, though, is probably his activity in the middle of the season. He has made 21.3 percent of his deals in December and January.
During his time in Carolina, he made two massive moves in the middle of the season.
In January 2000, he acquired Rod Brind'Amour from Philadelphia in a deal for Keith Primeau. In January 2006, he got Doug Weight from St. Louis for Mike Zigomanis, Jesse Boulerice and three draft picks.
With the Penguins, the acquisitions of David Perron, Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin occurred in December and January.
If Rutherford is about to make a similar move this year, there's little doubt he's in intense information-gathering mode right now.
“One of the things I've really grown to admire about Jim as a manger is he might be the best listener I've ever been around,” Sullivan said. “He listens to the coaching staff, the hockey ops. He takes as much information as he can in order for him to make the most informed decisions. I think that's what makes him, in my mind, one of the better general managers in the league.
“If there's a deal on the table to be made, and he thinks it's going to help our team win games, then he has the gumption to make those trades. He's also creative. I don't think you can ever tell him a deal can't be made. He's always thinking outside the box and how to make certain transactions occur so that we can try to improve our club.”