TIOPS DAILY FIVE
*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. Jim Rutherford’s power in the organization has strengthened less than one year on the job. When Rutherford was hired last June, he was portrayed by the organization to the public as being an experienced presence who would help transition Jason Botterill, Bill Guerin or Tom Fitzgerald to the General Manager role within two to three years.
No such transition plan is in place now 10 months later.
“I feel that we have two or three guys here who are very close to becoming general managers,” Rutherford said last June. “What I will do is give them big roles, a lot of say and a lot of input in my final decisions. “But at the same time, I know I’m mentoring them. I would suspect — I mean, nobody knows what’s going to happen — but I would suspect that this term for me is probably two or three years.”
Rutherford sung a different tune in yesterday’s end of the season press conference and he’s not someone whose ready to start a transition to someone else. In the first place it was silly for the organization to place that on a new GM anyways, even one at Rutherford’s age.
The mentoring thing and giving some of the Shero left overs new titles was believed `to be nothing more than just keeping everyone happy until their contracts ran out.
Rutherford works as kind of an old school lone wolf, though, his two closest confidants were Jason Karmanos, Vice President of Hockey Operations, and Bill Guerin, assistant General Manager.
Interesting enough the team has not committed to bringing back associate GM Jason Botterill or assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald yet. Some of it is money driven, some of it is other factors.
Decisions on both are expected to be made next month. A mutual parting could come between the Penguins and both or at least one of them. The Boston Bruins are interested in bringing Fitzgerald in to interview for a prominent role in the organization, sources say, and Fitzgerald is highly regarded around the league for his eye to evaluate talent.
For whatever reason, Botterill’s stock around the league as a top young General Manager candidate seems to be fading. Fitzgerald’s is rising.
2. The Penguins theme this summer is going to be about getting younger. It was the plan they portrayed last summer up until Christian Ehrhoff became available two days before free agency and Rutherford went off script.
From Josh Yohe of the Tribune-Review on July 28, 2014: [The Penguins are prepared to let their young defensemen play, which will allow them to distribute a larger percentage of cap space than usual to forwards.
“We’re extremely excited about these young defensemen,” associate general manager Jason Botterill said at the 2014 entry draft. “Brian Dumoulin. Scott Harrington. Simon Despres. It’s time for them to get an opportunity.”
[Botterill said having multiple defensemen on entry-level contracts at the NHL level will save the Penguins money against the salary cap, which will allow them to tackle their biggest need: depth at forward.]
That plan never came to fruition as the Penguins jumped on the opportunity to sign Ehrhoff.
It’s always a wait and see situation for the Penguins and despite the message Rutherford put out there yesterday about getting faster and younger, it remains to be seen if the Penguins will be able to help themselves for a team that clearly see’s itself as a Stanley Cup team.
The Penguins will have a couple young defensemen in the lineup, even if they keep Rob Scuderi, but how many spots actually open up at forward is up in the air.
The Penguins will tender Beau Bennett but if he’s going to have a spot in the top-9, the Penguins are going to have to move some bodies. He remains a good bet to be traded.
It’s easy to picture how few spots might actually be available for young forwards.
Using Joffrey Lupul as a trade acquisition for example with Scott Harrington going the other way in a trade package, a player they have interest in and something that was discussed last February, and Kasperi Kapanen taking up a top-6 spot, to go with the Penguins informing Max Lapierre, Daniel Winnik, and Blake Comeau Monday they have interest in retaining them, here’s one projection just to give a general idea.
Joffrey Lupul (trade example) or UFA – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Kasperi Kapanen – Evgeni Malkin – David Perron
Chris Kunitz – Brandon Sutter/or Oskar Sundqvist – Pascal Dupuis
Nick Spaling – Oskar Sundqvist/or Max Lapierre – Blake Comeau
Many will focus on needing to get Kunitz out of town this summer but the killer in this group is Nick Spaling. Even it means trading him for a late round pick, something Rutherford has not been interested in, trading a roster player for futures, the Penguins need to jump on it this off-season to open a spot for a Scott Wilson or Bryan Rust. Because Chris Kunitz isn’t going to fetch a high return and they don’t have the stomach to buy-out Pascal Dupuis who has no trade value coming off two blood clots, Spaling is an ideal candidate to move regardless of the return, though, in today’s market going to be a tough contract to move.
3. The Penguins have four series wins since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Ottawa Senators (2010)
New York Islanders (2013), Ottawa Senators (2013)
Columbus Blue Jackets (2014)
Here’s an interesting trend:
Every series win has come against a non Stanley Cup contender that failed to make the playoffs the following season.
Ottawa missed the playoffs in 2009, made the playoffs in 2010 (1st round loss to Pittsburgh), and missed the playoffs the following season (2010-2011).
The New York Islanders missed the playoffs for five straight seasons (07/08 – 11/12) before making the playoffs in 2012-2013 (1st round loss to Pittsburgh) and missed the playoffs the following season (2013-2014).
Ottawa was an 8th seed in 2011-2012, 7th seed in 2012-2013 (2nd round loss to Pittsburgh), and then missed the playoffs the following season (2013-2014).
The Columbus Blue Jackets missed the playoffs for four straight seasons before earning a No. 7 seed in 2013-2014 playoffs (1st round loss to Pittsburgh). Columbus then missed the playoffs in 2014-2015.
4. The Penguins lost out on young Russian star Artemi Panarin. Pittsburgh was very interested as we reported back in March but Panarin will sign with the Chicago Blackhawks. Elliotte Friedman reports the Penguins, Flames, Canadiens, and Leafs “all made strong pitches.”
Friedman also notes that Panarin chose the Blackhawks “because he’s seen similar players thrive there.”
Despite the lure of playing next to Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, it hasn’t helped the Penguins land these type of young upside players like Panarin or even Kevin Hayes last summer.
Hayes and Tom Fitzgerald are related and the two are very close but Pittsburgh wasn’t looked at as a great hockey situation by Hayes and his agent Bob Murray. For these type of players it’s all about the best chance to maximize their second contract. The factor of potentially playing with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby didn’t even have the Penguins as one of the top-2 finalists for Hayes.
Pittsburgh not having success of young players thriving, minus the Crosby’s, Malkin’s, could be a factor on why players are picking the Chicago’s, Rangers, and Tampa Bay’s.
5. Jeff Locke has made four starts this season.
6 IP, 2 ER, vs Milwaukee Brewers
8 IP, 1 ER, vs Milwaukee Brewers
5 IP, 4 ER, vs Chicago Cubs
3.2 IP, 5 ER, vs Chicago Cubs
Locke walked one batter in his first two starts of the season against a very bad Brewers team. He’s walked six (2 starts) against a very good Cubs lineup, especially in the middle of the order. Not a surprise his command issues have popped back up when he’s faced a lineup like the Cubs.