Penguins Seeing Effects of Rutherford’s Poor Decision Making


Year after yr, every crew within the NHL grapples with the query of the place they stand in phrases of contending for the Stanley Cup. Teams just like the Buffalo Sabres are caught in a floundering state within the league’s basement, whereas the Tampa Bay Lightning have a seemingly unbeatable squad.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have had their very own points with the place they stand on this meter for the previous few seasons. A crew that options Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will at all times be within the Cup dialog, however these two received’t be round endlessly. In reality, and this may increasingly really feel scary to hockey followers, we’re nearer to the tip of their careers than the start.

Win-Now Mode

Following the Penguins’ second Cup win in as a few years in 2017, then-general supervisor Jim Rutherford vowed main modifications to the crew. While 2017-18 was a turning level yr for the crew, it marked the start of an odd period for the Penguins. The period of being in “win-now mode.”

Pierre McGuire Sidney Crosby
Pierre McGuire and Sidney Crosby (Michael Miller, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, by way of Wikimedia Commons)

The definition of “win-now mode” is easy sufficient. Do no matter it takes to convey future Hall of Famers Crosby and Malkin one final Cup. The two aren’t getting any youthful and it’s solely a matter of time earlier than their play begins to take a decline. “Win-now mode” additionally goes hand-in-hand with the questions across the Penguins’ “Cup window.” Is it still open? Can Crosby and Malkin nonetheless lower it within the postseason? Is the window already closed?

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Bringing in younger, vibrant gamers like Teddy Blueger and Kasperi Kapanen is a good way to assist lengthen the Cup window and have an excellent grip on win-now mode. But there have been many missteps alongside the way in which and most of them solely have one man in charge: Rutherford.

Rutherford’s Decision Making

While Rutherford’s intentions had been in the precise place with some of his strikes, they did nothing to assist the crew and did loads to compromise the long run. You don’t should look an excessive amount of additional than the contracts he signed off on following the 2018 Playoffs.


On July 1, 2018, the Penguins signed 31-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson to a five-year, $16.25 million contract. This signing was instantly considered as an terrible contract by the fan base. Johnson wasn’t the identical participant he was after being picked third total within the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He wasn’t going to attain 40 factors and was a profession minus-109 at that time.

Jack Johnson Pittsburgh Penguins
Former Penguins’ defender Jack Johnson (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Only two logical explanations could be seen as to why the Penguins signed Johnson. He and Crosby went to Shattuck St. Marie’s collectively and have become shut pals, and Rutherford was the overall supervisor of the Carolina Hurricanes who drafted Johnson in 2005. So, he’s a former Rutherford draft decide who has a Crosby connection.

The contract and experiment had been each an utter catastrophe and the Penguins purchased out Johnson earlier than the 2020-21 season. While the buyout penalty isn’t enormous, maxing out at $1,916,667 for the 2022-23 season, it’s nonetheless an impediment that must be hurdled yearly till 2026, the yr after Crosby’s present contract ends.


Brandon Tanev has been an awesome addition to the crew for what it’s value and a much-needed shot of adrenalin at instances. Where he hurts the Penguins, nonetheless, is but once more within the wage cap. On the opening day of free company in 2019, Rutherford signed Tanev to a six-year deal worth $3.5 million per season. That’s manner too excessive of a price ticket for a man that steadily performs in your fourth line. Adding a modified no-trade clause solely makes him tougher to maneuver if issues go downhill.

Brandon Tanev Pittsburgh Penguins
Brandon Tanev, former Pittsburgh Penguin (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Given Tanev’s aggressive type of play, a pointy decline is feasible. There is little question that he’s an awesome teammate who helps win and has change into a fan favourite, however it’s a must to tread flippantly with guys that prefer to throw the physique. Thankfully for Penguins followers, the Seattle Kraken took Tanev off their palms on the 2021 Expansion Draft.


Here is the place we will pinpoint the start of the tip within the Rutherford period. At the flip of the last decade, the Penguins locked up one of their youngest gamers to a brand new contract. In Jan. 2020, defenseman Marcus Pettersson signed a five-year contract value simply north of $4 million per season. Now, the deal isn’t horrible, however that’s loads of cash to provide a 23-year-old who was comparatively inexperienced on the time.

Marcus Pettersson Pittsburgh Penguins
Marcus Pettersson, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now a season and a half later, the deal seems to be brutal. Pettersson spent most of the 2020-21 season on the third pairing and has been the chief in commerce talks for some time now. All that, plus he was left uncovered to Seattle for the Expansion Draft. His contract has one other 4 seasons left, and the final two are accompanied by a modified no-trade clause. He’s been a helpful blueliner, however he hasn’t been capable of attain his full potential and his contract seems to be extra egregious every single day.

The 2020 offseason noticed one other younger defenseman with great upside signal a brand new take care of the Penguins. Early Sep. 2020, Jusso Riikola signed a two-year deal value $1.15 million per yr. That’s an awesome deal, however he performed seven video games after signing it. Maybe this example is on the teaching employees not having religion within the 27-year-old defender, however he turned wasted cash.

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Following a second consecutive playoff collapse in 2020, the Penguins wanted to get youthful and quicker any manner they might. Rutherford used this as a cause to commerce veteran fan favourite Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for ahead Colton Sceviour and defenseman Mike Matheson. Let’s focus solely on Matheson, who did assist the crew get youthful and quicker however did it at an exorbitant value.

Mike Matheson Pittsburgh Penguins
Mike Matheson, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When Rutherford acquired Matheson, his contract had six years remaining at $4.875 million per yr. At the time, that made him the second-highest-paid defenseman on the crew and the participant with the longest contract set to run out in 2026. He has nice skating pace and exceeded expectations in his first season, however his contract leaves many confused. It’s such a big deal for a participant who’s liable to being the worst participant on the ice at any given second. The Penguins additionally dealt him over the 2022 offseason to the Montreal Canadiens for Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling.


Just 10 days earlier than the puck dropped on the 2020-21 NHL season, Rutherford made his final big-time signing for the Penguins. And whereas it was a deal many may agree can be value it sooner or later, the participant in query must revert to his rookie season type. John Marino signed a six-year deal value $4.4 million.

John Marino Pittsburgh Penguins
John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Marino had an outstanding rookie season, and it’s what earned him the contract in query. During the 2019-20 season, in 56 video games, he scored six objectives and 20 assists for 26 factors. He confirmed wonderful potential to be a prime blueliner for the Penguins down the highway.

Much like Pettersson, Rutherford jumped on the thought of providing a younger participant a giant deal with no lot of expertise. Again, this contract was good and had the potential to be a knockout. But, as with all younger participant, it’s dangerous singing a participant long-term at a excessive value after simply 56 video games within the league. Unfortunately, after a lackluster 2021-22 season, the Penguins traded Marino to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round decide and Ty Smith. Through 25 video games in 2022-23, Marino has eight factors. Meanwhile, Smith has but to make his Penguins NHL debut.

All these signings don’t even dive deeper into some of the knee-jerk trades that Rutherford made in his remaining years with Pittsburgh. Usually buying and selling away draft picks, the Penguins are starting to really feel the repercussions of his actions with one of the worst prospect swimming pools within the NHL. While some offers labored out for the time like Jason Zucker, there have been extra noteworthy unhealthy trades.

General manager Jim Rutherford Pittsburgh Penguins 2019 NHL Draft
Former Penguins basic supervisor Jim Rutherford on the 2019 NHL Draft (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI by way of Getty Images)

The Ryan Reaves deal became a catastrophe that they’re nonetheless feeling the consequences of. Tanner Pearson was traded away one-for-one for Erik Gudbranson, who spent elements of two seasons with the crew. Or buying and selling away Dominik Kahun to the Buffalo Sabres, pondering Conor Sheary would have an effect. All simply response strikes that didn’t should be made.

In his remaining years with the crew, Rutherford made a number of questionable trades and signed a number of massive contracts which can be already inflicting points with the Penguins. To be truthful, nobody may have predicted a worldwide pandemic would get away, inflicting the cap to remain stagnant for a number of seasons, however this was the hand everybody was dealt. And what does he do when the water begins to get sizzling? He packs it in and leaves.

New Management

Rutherford created a large number with the Penguins’ wage cap and left it for another person to wash up. On his manner out, he solely cited “personal reasons” for his resignation and nobody could ever know the total cause for his departure. But the crew needed to transfer ahead and discover a substitute.

The Penguins picked up Ron Hextall as the new GM and Ron Burke as President of Hockey Operations. The two got here in understanding that Pittsburgh has an excellent crew however may use some enhancements.

Penguins’ present basic supervisor Ron Hextall (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A 3rd straight playoff collapse solidified that massive enhancements had been wanted. Leaders that couldn’t produce and a goalie who fumbled away a whole collection. The new regime is eyeing methods to make this crew their very own and develop out of the Rutherford shadow. Multiple trades and signings may very well be coming within the close to future.

Hextall and Burke, whereas desirous to see change, perceive how vital one other championship is to Crosby, Malkin, and the City of Pittsburgh. They are persevering with the mantra of win-now mode however are protecting a eager eye on the long run. As it stands, the Penguins have one of the worst prospect swimming pools within the league and never a considerable quantity of draft picks to assist rebuild it. Moves are going to be made, and odds are we already noticed the primary one.


If Hextall and Burke need to construct a profitable crew whereas not sacrificing time from Crosby and Malkin’s profession, they’re going to want cap area to do it. That means the enterprise aspect of the game has to rear its ugly head and unhealthy trades should be made. We could have simply bear witness to the primary one with the Jared McCann dealing.

Jared McCann Pittsburgh Penguins
Jared McCann was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs simply earlier than the roster freeze (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Penguins felt there was no probability they’d have the ability to defend McCann from the Expansion Draft, so Hextall determined to realize some type of return by way of commerce. McCann was despatched to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Fillip Hallander and a 2023 seventh-round draft decide. It’s a tough tablet to swallow for Pens followers, however they may should get used to it. There must be extra on the way in which.

Before the deal, the Penguins had a number of RFAs to tender provides to. Not to say the couple of UFAs they might need again, however solely $1 million value of area to do it with. That’s because of Rutherford and his wheeling and dealing. Now they sit with nearly $4 million in area and hope Seattle throws a bone and takes a giant contract like Pettersson or Zucker.

Thanks to the various terrible offers signed off by Rutherford on his manner out the door, Hextall, Burke, and the Penguins have on some fairly tight handcuffs as they try to construct a contender. Sure, Crosby continues to be round and Jake Guentzel is rising into an elite expertise, however a participant like Matheson could be close to not possible to get rid of.

Rutherford introduced Mike Sullivan, Phil Kessel, and most significantly, two Cups to Pittsburgh. But all that got here at a value the Penguins are already repaying. Next to no stable prospects, you possibly can construct your future round. No cap area to suppose of. And contracts that aren’t going anyplace anytime quickly. Sure, everybody needs the crew to win now, however at what value?


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