Why Penguins GM Jim Rutherford can’t rule out trading some of his biggest stars
It’s probably within the power of Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford to put an abrupt end to much of the drama and intrigue sure to surround the roster decisions he faces this summer.
He could stand up, declare he has no intentions to trade stars such as Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang or Phil Kessel, and that would be that.
Rutherford has no plans to make such an announcement, though, and there are a couple of reasons for that.
First, he doesn’t think his comments do much to change the narrative around his team. A team that won its second straight Stanley Cup only two years ago just left the playoffs via a first-round sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders. There will be questions asked, hard questions, no matter what.
“People are going to come to their conclusions anyway before I make any comments,” Rutherford said Friday. “Everybody’s disappointed. It didn’t end the way we expected.”
Second, taking such a stance would undermine the thorough internal audit of the state of the team Rutherford has begun to conduct.
It’s an audit he conducts at the end of every season, but it does no one any good to pretend it doesn’t have at least a slightly different tone this year.
“I would say it’s the same as I always do, but with maybe a little different approach as to how we finished,” Rutherford said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m taking my time. I always take my time, but I’ll probably take more time in this because I’ve got to make sure all the emotion is out of this. Not just my emotions, but the people I’m talking to. I would say it’s not any different, the process, recognizing that there’s more chance there’s going to be changes made.”
As part of the process, Rutherford has begun seeking input from all the key decision makers in the organization. When these conversations begin, he has a list of questions in mind.
“Where are we at as a team? This is one of my first questions when I talk to all the people I talk to,” Rutherford said. “Can this team have a chance to contend next year, and if it can’t, what are the changes? Who are they, and why are they?
“The biggest thing is how do we get back to having a team concept that we feel like we’re playing as a team. We had a lot of good players, but we didn’t have a team.”
Were top individual stars such as Malkin, Letang and Kessel instrumental in the breakdown of the team-building process last season? Rutherford stopped well short of suggesting that.
“Even if I knew the answer to that, I don’t want to point the finger at any one or two guys and where they fall in the pecking order of the team,” Rutherford said.
He did, however, say everyone who returns in the fall will have to be a part of building it back up.
“And when I talk about not being a team, that’s not just on the players,” Rutherford said. “That’s on me. That’s on the coaches. That’s on the players. Everybody plays a role in shaping that and making that work.”
If there’s one thing that’s not on the table as he conducts his evaluation, Rutherford said, it’s a full-fledged rebuild. He won’t be tearing apart his roster, negotiating the complicated web of no-trade clauses his top stars have to acquire picks and prospects and starting from scratch.
But a roster retool that includes moving a big name? It’s an idea Rutherford feels he must contemplate, even if bringing up the topic ruffles some feathers. What if that’s the only way to restore the team concept he so desperately seeks?
“That has got to be the biggest thing we’ve got to get back to,” Rutherford said.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .