TIOPS DAILY FIVE
*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford showed Wednesday he still has his fastball. Rutherford is an old-school GM known by rivals as a risk taker. Much of his first season as Penguins GM, everything seemed rushed.
He overpaid for David Perron giving up a first-round pick that wasn’t lottery protected; he went from believing the Penguins needed skill and four scoring lines, to over-reacting to some tough games with the Rangers, Capitals that the Penguins needed grit to win; he ran the cap so tight the Penguins couldn’t fill a full lineup late in the year, to taking the risk of trading Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy just because the Penguins needed a right hand defenseman. There was no “patience” in Rutherford’s DNA during the season. This off-season has been a different story.
Many in league circles had been predicting for weeks that Rutherford would do something bold this summer, some even saying risky, but how Rutherford handled the month long trade pursuit of Phil Kessel was some of the best work you’re going to see.
The Penguins were always in the drivers seat during trade talks for Kessel because of the lack of another suitor and Toronto’s desire to just cut ties and move on, which showed with the return they eventually accepted.
What Rutherford did was never panic. And what he did at the end of the day was teach the Leafs inexperienced management staff that the old dog still has it.
No one regards Rutherford as one of the NHL best General Managers and he’s not, but as one executive told me about Rutherford, he’s so well connected with other GM’s, he knew the Leafs were always bluffing that there were other serious suitors.
When talks picked back up Tuesday night and started to really heat up Wednesday morning, Rutherford is said by those close to the situation to have strongly insisted to Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas that there was a 12:00 pm deadline to strike a deal or the Penguins were pulling out, indicating the Penguins were moving forward to resign Paul Martin and signing a top forward on the market.
The Leafs brass bought it and were the ones who panicked, accepting an underwhelming deal. Not only didn’t the Penguins give up Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot or their top goaltending prospect Matthew Murray who played for Dubas, Pittsburgh’s first round pick going to Toronto is lottery protected for the next two years, while the Leafs will pick up $1.2 million of Kessel’s salary and had to foot the bill of Kessel’s $4 million bonus on Wednesday.
Oh yeah — the Penguins somehow talked the Leafs into taking Nick Spaling and his $2.2 million cap hit off their hands and gave the Penguins their 2016 2nd round pick back.
For all of Kessel’s faults and his high salary, Toronto ended up being the desperate ones when it was all said and done. This is still one of the NHL’s most prolific goal scorers who is in his 20’s.
The Leafs are in good hands with Shanahan, Dubas & Co, but experience trumped inexperience in a big way on this deal.
That said, not everyone in the organization is thrilled with the Kessel acquisition. There was a huge blow up in team headquarters on Tuesday when some front office members of the organization didn’t even know Brandon Saad was available until one staffer had heard about it from another team around 3:00 p.m that day.
Rutherford was fixated on getting Kessel, there’s no question about that, and did nothing more than to inquire about Saad. He didn’t seriously pursue it and let’s just say someone above him went absolutely ballistic I’m told when made aware that Rutherford didn’t pursue Saad in the matter they felt he should have.
If Kessel puts up 40 goals next season, the fixation of Saad from some higher-ups in the organization will be forgotten, at least for the short-term.
2. One scout on who Phil Kessel should play with. “I like the fit with Crosby more.”
A second scout: “Phil’s ability to gain the offensive zone should gel with Sidney better. Sid will dish it and go straight to the crease area, backing the D down. That factor will create so many open shooting lanes for Kessel, it’s scary.”
A third scout: ” I just see the pace Crosby plays with as being a deciding factor for me. To put that type of speed on his wing, they’re going to push the opposition back through the neutral zone and whoever’s playing left wing [with them] will score a lot of goals”
The discussion is going to rage on all summer but this was a small sampling.
3. Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Kamanos is still bitter towards Jim Rutherford about that Alex Semin deal.
“Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for everything, alright?” Karmano’s told the media on Wednesday. “I do not have to take responsibility for Pittsburgh signing Kessel, however.”
“Alright, now, Pittsburgh has no first-round picks anymore. They traded their first-round pick from the year before. They traded their first-round pick for this year, and now they’ve traded their first-round pick for next year. But they have Kessel, who may score as many goals as, uh, Alex Semin did (6 goals). “And I don’t have to take credit for that.”
Karmanos clearly wanted to get some stuff off his chest.
“Ron is far more inclusive, so he’s asking a lot of questions and I give him my opinion. I’m not going to second guess him. He’s far more astute on the financial end of the game. Jim liked to talk about the fact that we’re a budget team. I’m not sure what that ever meant. Every team has a budget. That means we had a budget until Jim needed a player, then I’d say, OK, and we had a different budget.”
“Ronnie is a no-nonsense guy when it comes to those kinds of contracts. And he’s not worried that he might get criticized if his team doesn’t do as well as people think it should. So he doesn’t panic when it comes to signing players or worrying about that kind of thing. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make good signings, because he does. We have an outstanding working relationship.”
What’s great about this, Karmanos wasn’t even provoked. He spotted the Penguins on TV and started rambling during the press conference.
4. First Class Guy — Paul Martin
Tremendous feature he wrote in the Players Tribune, writing about his time in Pittsburgh. Martin was disgusted last summer with the firing of Ray Shero and how the Penguins handled the Dan Bylsma situation and he wasn’t the only one. That had him fully prepared to move on at the end of his contract but you get a glimpse in that article of just how much he loved his teammates, and he gave serious thought to resigning this summer after all.
Always came off as a great person to me.
Best of luck in San Jose
5. Something about the month of July for Neil Walker. Back-to-back four hit games, Walker is 8-for-11 with 2 home runs, 5 RBIs in his last two games and went 10-7 with 7 RBIs in the Pirates three game sweep of the Tigers. Big development for the Pirates if he’s in line for a big second half.