No team did less than Penguins at NHL Draft
SUNRISE, Fla. — Chairs had been neatly ordered in rows or hauled away entirely. Tablecloths had been removed. Arena workers were busy cleaning up trash.
And the Penguins were holding an impromptu staff meeting. For nearly an hour. Such was the scene Saturday afternoon in the middle of BB&T Center after the NHL Draft ended.
“Same as we have every day,” general manager Jim Rutherford insisted. “It just happened to be in front of everybody.”
Thirty teams combined for 211 picks and 26 trades over the two-day event, and no team did less than the Penguins, who showed up, made four selections and left.
The scene at the end was irony at its finest: The team that did the least had the most to talk about. But Rutherford downplayed the animated exchange between himself, his assistants and coach Mike Johnston, one during which assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald could be seen gesturing emphatically more than once.
“It wasn't that lengthy based on most (other) meetings,” Rutherford said. “And there weren't any punches thrown.”
Which is probably a good thing because Rutherford still needs to add a pair of top-six wingers.
Leaving here empty-handed did not happen because Rutherford was inactive or shy.
He and president/CEO David Morehouse at one point disappeared down a tunnel together. Same for Rutherford and assistant GM Jason Botterill and Johnston over various parts of Day 2.
At one point, Rutherford walked into the stands and had an extended conversation with Allan Walsh, the agent for Pascal Dupuis, Marc-Andre Fleury and David Perron.
Overtures seemingly were made, but Rutherford resisted the temptation to pay a premium, banking that prices eventually will fall into a more desirable range.
“I didn't push for a deal (Saturday),” Rutherford said. “There were no deals involving draft picks, so there wasn't a reason to push.”
Rutherford has talked since the season ended about upgrading who plays with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He has also talked about a weak free agent class.
Only three shopping days remain until July 1, when free agency opens, so figure on Rutherford having a few conversations. He doesn't think any of the talks he had in Florida will be difficult to restart.
The primary trade chips involve the organization's young defensemen, Rutherford reiterated Saturday, with different teams valuing different players.
Olli Maatta isn't an option. Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington could be for the right deal. But Rutherford said young defensemen weren't a sticking point in negotiations.
“(Dealing young defensemen) is not the reason we haven't made (a trade),” he said. “They're just part of the conversations.”
There remains no indication the Penguins have shifted their focus from top-tier scorers in Toronto's Phil Kessel, Chicago's Patrick Sharp, Carolina's Jeff Skinner and St. Louis' T.J. Oshie.
The group of unrestricted free agents is considerably less exciting, with top-of-the-heap names like Washington's Joel Ward (with whom the Penguins have met), Anaheim's Matt Beleskey, the New York Rangers' Martin St. Louis or Winnipeg's Drew Stafford, just to name a few.
But Rutherford, without tipping his hand, insisted going to free agency would not be a big concern.
“There are some guys we like in free agency that can help most teams,” Rutherford said, “but we haven't made a decision yet.”
They didn't make much of anything in Florida, save for four picks.
It's an approach that might have looked odd to outsiders — especially afterward, when Penguins nearly closed down the arena — but it's one Rutherford said he envisioned all along.
“I told you before I got here I was going to be patient,” he said. “I wasn't overly aggressive. If somebody was aggressive with us, maybe something would have happened, but this is what I expected.”