Its now been more than a year since Jim Rutherford took over for Ray Shero as the Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager, and while the team did not finish off the 2014/2015 season quite how people wanted it, there were strides taken to fix many of the issues left behind by the previous regime.
Yesterday on our Pittsburgh Penguins Facebook group I asked fans to Grade Rutherford’s first year as the Penguins GM
A – 0
B – 8
C – 12
D – 4
F – 33
Above is what the totals are for each grade as of today.
In this article I take a look at the moves Rutherford made and then grade his first Season. Maybe seeing it this way will change your mind?
Firing Dan Bylsma and hiring Mike Johnston started the healing process, a process that was thought to be a quick transition but unfortunately has proven to be a longer one.
Johnston came in and attempted, some would say successfully, to create a better game plan for the Penguins in his first season. After many years of Bylsma’s “quick transition” game, Johnston implemented a calmer approach focusing on puck possession and shots on net. While this proved to be a strong strategy early on in the season, the illnesses and injuries to the team really caused them to struggle as they headed into the New Year. It’s hard to not blame Johnston and the coaching staff as it appeared the team lacked any type of identity in the second half of the season, but its easy to see that the inconsistent line-up affected many of the players on the Roster. Also keep in mind that Johnston, despite being an Associate coach and Assistant coach in the NHL before, he is a first year coach who had to deal with more injuries than any other team in the league last season.
He has the tools and the ability to be a strong Coach in this league, give him time and a team not riddled with injuries and I believe we will see something awesome.
Trades (Part 1)
On top of hiring Johnston, Rutherford made many moves prior to and throughout the season in attempts to tweak and better the team. Trading problem player James Neal for the calm and collected Patric Hornqvist was the first and one of the most criticized. What fans don’t realize though is Neal, despite playing well with Malkin, showed very little composure on the ice which caused the Penguins to be shorthanded more often than they should have been.
James Neal: 67 GP / 23 goals / 37 Points / 57 PIM
Patric Hornqvist: 64 GP / 25 Goals / 51 Points / 38 PIM
Wasn’t such a bad trade after all, and remember the Penguins also acquired Nick Spaling in that trade who was good for 27 points last season himself.
There were also the Free Agent signings of Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss and Christian Ehrhoff. All of who helped in one way or another throughout the season. Unfortunately though most of the Free Agent signings that took place were to add depth to the bottom six of the team and not to address the need of top six help that Sid and Geno so desperately have been in search of. Despite this fact though, Comeau had an excellent first half of the season, Downie played exactly as expected and Greiss was a solid back up for Fleury.
It’s hard to argue that Rutherford didn’t strengthen our bottom six in Free Agency as well as solidify goaltending. However, the Ehrhoff signing was a bit peculiar and you might say this was the worst move Rutherford did for the Pens as he was injured for nearly half the season.
Trades (Part 2)
Throughout the season Rutherford made a few minor and a couple big moves in attempts to better his team. The first move that really mattered and could be considered a bit of a splash was acquiring Winger David Perron from Edmonton in exchange for 2015 1st rnd draft pick and Rob Klinkhammer (who was acquired by sending Philip Samuelsson to the Coyotes earlier in the season). Perron immediately made an impact on the Guins, scoring 12 goals and 22 points in 43 games. While that doesn’t seem too impressive, he began to slump at the same time the entire team did.
Penguins also acquired Daniel Winnik from the Toronto Maple leafs in exchange for Zach Sill, 2015 4th rnd draft and a 2016 2nd rnd draft pick. (Toronto retained half of Winnik’s salary). Winnik was brought in to strengthen our bottom six and provide more stability on the Penalty kill. He did what he was brought in to do and did it well. He wasn’t ever going to put up big numbers and he wasn’t going to be a savior. The team, thanks in large part to injuries, needed more than what Winnik could bring, something many did not understand.
Prior to the Winnik trade Rutherford also moved out Marcel Goc (someone he re-signed in the summer) for grittier more versatile Maxime Lapierre. Easily the second move that was highly criticized by fans, Lapierre was not brought in to help the struggling scoring, he was brought in to protect and antagonize. His puck possession numbers were slightly worse than Goc’s that wasn’t the main reasoning for making the move. There were rumblings that Goc was unhappy and a change needed made. Lapierre was who they were able to acquire.
On deadline day there were two trades that took place. One with St. Louis that saw Robert Bortuzzo moved for defenseman Ian Cole. The other trade, another criticized move, was with Anaheim that saw the unproven young defenseman Simon Despres moved for former Penguins defender Ben Lovejoy.
Cole brings more to the Penguins then Bortuzzo could, he has size and solid defensive and puck moving skills. He is a player that can grow with the Penguins.
Bringing back Lovejoy made little sense, especially because of the potential Despres supposedly has.
An interesting way to look at these two trades is to look at it as we lost Bortuzzo for Lovejoy and Despres for Cole. While I understand that isn’t exactly how it went down, looking at it that way makes the Despres deal a little more manageable. But it isn’t like Despres went to Anaheim and became the next Nik Lindstrom. His off ice issues may have been the reason for his unexpected departure something that would take his stock down lower and something the fans may not understand.
I am sure there is something I missed, but none that impacted the teams as much as what I listed above. There are rumblings that Rutherford has “buyers remorse” with Perron, if that is the case look for him to move him this summer in attempts to acquire someone else to fill that role. However I choose to believe that Perron will work out fine along side Crosby or Malkin and it would be unwise of them to move on so quickly.
Personally If I were to grade Rutherford’s first year, looking at the tight cap space he had, the injuries and illnesses that overcame the club and lack of available targets to acquire through out the summer and season I would give him a “B”.
Ray Shero was constantly applauded for his bold moves, during the better part of his tenure as GM, he continuously damaged the Penguins future to win “Right Now”, unfortunately it only worked once.
Rutherford was given a mess of a team, he did the best he could all without creating false hope for the fans or the team. He made the best out of what he had and still, despite all the obstacle he had to overcome, he gets little to no credit.
If you ask me, I trust Jim Rutherford now more than I ever trusted Ray Shero.
Thanks for reading and “In GMJR I Trust!”
– Robert Slavinsky