Latest Penguins Buzz

Insider Only Penguin management wanted to build a team like Tampa Bay and now they get them

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Latest Penguins Buzz

The NHL is a copy cat league. Jim Rutherford had disastrous first season as Penguins General Manager that was plagued by a bad coaching hire, no plan, no identity, and mis-management of the cap. Things got tenuous where Rutherford being fired after one year and the Penguins promoting Tom Fitzgerald was mulled internally at one point before a prominent figure in the organization was talked out of it.

That is now ancient history as Rutherford has had quite the turnaround in year 2 and will be given the opportunity to have his contract extended this summer beyond the 2016-2017 season, sources say. Rutherford’s current contract ends after next season.

The most important thing that happened for the Penguins was the organization regrouped in a big way last summer in everyone getting on board regarding what type of hockey club the Penguins wanted to build.

As the organization went through their pro scouting meetings last summer, the consensus they kept coming up with was building a team in the mold of the Tampa Bay Lightning — A four line skilled team that overwhelms you with speed and skill –.

That meant sending the likes of Max Lapierre, Daniel Winnik out the door.

We all know the perfect storm finally came together after the coaching change, a few trades, and injuries opening the door for the Wilkes Barre guys, but a big difference from year 1 Rutherford to Year 2 Rutherford is he stayed with a plan from start to finish.

Now the Penguins are seeing the pay off.

What tilted the Penguins – Capitals series was the Penguins having more skilled depth from their second and third tier level players. Will be interesting if Washington takes a page out of Pittsburgh’s book and goes away from players like Mike Richards who can no longer create offensively and look for more of the Cullen/Bonino types.

Early in his tenure as Penguin General Manager, Ray Shero ended up benefitting in a big way from Craig Patrick’s final four to five drafts — Sidney Crosby (no-brainer), Evgeni Malkin, Marc Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski among them —

For Jim Rutherford it’s been the same thing with less impact guys and there’s more coming with team officials giddy about 2013 third round pick Jake Guentzel who some in the organization believe is the club’s best forward prospect not Daniel Sprong.

2010 Draft: 2 NHL Players have emerged this season in Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl
2011 Draft: Scott Wilson would be a regular in the lineup right now if not injured. Josh Archibald has a chance to be an NHL player in this system, Dominik Uher a tweener.
2012 Draft: Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Matt Murray are legit NHL players, Murray already emerging as a star. Oskar Sundqvist on the cusp of being a regular NHL player.
2013 Draft: Jake Guentzel has a strong chance of being an impact NHL player in next couple years. Tristan Jarry projects as a capable No. 2 NHL starter.

Teams always hope for 2-3 players from each draft to develop into NHL players. Penguins have accomplished that over the past several drafts.

— The Penguins last summer wanted to be the Tampa Bay Lightning in the makeup of their team and interesting enough they get to faceoff with the Lightning in Round 3 for a chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in seven years.

In the Conference Finals, the player Penguin fans should be worrying more about returning is Anton Stralman than Steven Stamkos. Stralman returning and playing to his ability will have a bigger impact in the Lightning being able to match up against the Penguins favorably.

With so much focus on Crosby and Malkin, Washington didn’t have the personnel to match up against the Bonino line. If Stralman is back, Tampa Bay will be much more equipped than the Capitals were.

Jonathan Drouin’s emergence has kind of eased the loss of Stamkos for the Lightning.

Stamkos remains on blood thinners but as soon as he gets off them, he can return to the lineup immediately. His status will be a mystery all series.

— Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston has rejoined the Portland Winterhawks organization as head coach/GM. Johnston did not interview with any NHL clubs for a head coach opening but had some discussions with the Vancouver Canucks about joining their organization in some capacity. Johnston was a top contender for the Canucks job in 2014 before Willie Desjardins turned down the Penguins.

Johnston is owed around $650,000 from the Penguins in 2016-2017.

Nick Bonino is earning himself quite the pay-day on his next contract and for Pittsburgh you have to wonder if jumping the gun on giving Olli Maatta a six year deal complicates things to keep some of the core second tier level players like Trevor Daley and Bonino around after next season.

Getting Chris Kunitz off the books after the 2016-2017 season will help, along with cheap labor in the likes of Daniel Sprong, Jake Guentzel also being likely contributors in the couple years, but the Penguins easily could have did a bridge deal for Maatta and get a couple more cheap years out of him than buying for the future.

Internally for now, those close to the situation are adamant that Marc Andre Fleury Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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