Andrews: Assessing Jim Rutherford’s tenure in Pittsburgh

It’s no surprise that Penguins fan’s patience for Jim Rutherford is growing thinner by the day, especially after a streak of signings and trades that left writers and fans baffled.  Jim Rutherford has often been given a pass by fans for turning around a failing Penguins team and winning back to back Stanley Cups, but that “pass” seems to have run out. It now seems that Jim Rutherford’s days as the GM of the Penguins could be numbered, especially if the team misses the playoffs.  So let’s take a look back at some of his better moves, and some of his…not so good moves. For reading sake, only the major parts of the trades will be included. Another thing to be considered, is that most of the moves in the “Good” section were made when Jason Botterill was the Assistant GM.

The Good

Acquiring Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spalling for James Neal:

At the time of the trade, fans were questioning the GM’s first move for the Penguins.  However, Hornqvist was instrumental in the Penguin’s two cup wins, Spalling was part of the Phil Kessel deal, and Neal’s career seems to have fallen off as he has a mear 15 points this year.

Acquiring Ian Cole for Robert Bortuzzo and a 7th round pick:

Ian Cole went from being a 7th defenseman for the Blues to one of the best penalty killers the Penguins have had for a while.  Bortuzzo is filling his role for the Blues, so it seems the trade worked out for both sides.

Acquiring Phil Kessel for Kasperi Kapanen, Spalling, a 1st round pick, and other pieces:

This may be one of the most obvious, but this trade may be one of the best in Pens history.  Kessel was also a key piece for both cup runs and is still one of the big performers on the Penguins, and is showing no sign of slowing down.  As for what was given up, Kapanen is finally developing to his potential this year. Both sides seem to like the deal up to this day.

Acquiring Nick Bonino and a 2nd round pick for Brandon Sutter and 3rd round pick:

Once again, we see Rutherford acquiring a player that came up big in both cup runs.  Bonino started out quietly, but when March rolled around he seemed to kick it into another gear.  Although Bonino left in free agency, it was a smart idea to let him walk, as his production is not up to par with is $4 million dollar cap hit.

Acquiring Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi:

When this trade was announced, fans everywhere were in awe at just how Rutherford pulled this move off.  Scuderi was easily one of the worst defensemen in the league, but Chicago excepted the trade. Daley wasn’t a good fit in Chicago, but with Pittsburgh, he returned to his former self.  Much like Bonino, he helped in both cup runs and was let go in free agency.

Acquiring Justin Schultz for a 3rd round pick:

At the time, fans seemed divided about this trade.  Schultz was nearly getting run out of town by Edmonton, and wasn’t much more than a bottom pair defenseman for most of his time in Pittsburgh.  Then came the second cup run…and Schultz took off and never looked back. Ever since then, he has been one of the Penguins best and most reliable defenseman.

Acquiring Carl Hagelin for David Perron:

This was a simple change of scenery trade at the time, but it later turned into a key piece of one of the most iconic lines in playoff history.  Hagelin was the “H” of the HBK line, which was seemingly unstoppable. Hagelin was alright in the 2nd cup run, but after that, his production fell off big time.  He was later moved in another change of scenery trade for Tanner Pearson.

Acquiring Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad for Derrick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a 2nd round pick, and 2 4th round picks:

This may shock some people to be listed as a good trade, but for now, it could be considered one.  The Penguins acquired two young former 1st round picks while moving on from a disappointing Derrick Brassard.  Riley Sheahan also was having an underwhelming year. The only negatives to this trade were the 3 picks that Rutherford gave up in the process.

Honorable Mentions:

Acquiring a 3rd round pick for Beau Bennett

Acquiring Ron Hainsey for a 2nd round pick and Danny Kristo

Acquiring Jamie Oleksiak for a 4th round pick

Acquiring Riley Sheahan and a 5th round pick for Scott Wilson and a 3rd round pick

Acquiring Marcus Pettersson for Daniel Sprong

The Bad

Acquiring Ryan Reaves and a 2nd round pick for Oskar Sundqvist and a 1st round pick:

Fans were quite excited and shocked when it was announced Reaves was going to be a Penguin, but when the news was released that a first round pick was going the other way, fans were quick to dislike the deal.  Reaves didn’t even last a full year in Pittsburgh, and dropping roughly 20 spots in the draft for an enforcer was also a poor choice.

Acquiring Derrick Brassard and a 3rd round pick for a 1st round pick, Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, and a 3rd round pick:

Derrick Brassard was one of the biggest names in the 2018 trade deadline, and rightly so. He was having another good year with a failing Senators team and had a low cap hit for a 2nd line center.  However, Brassard did not live up to his expectations in Pittsburgh. No matter the reasoning, he just did not seem to fit in, wasn’t happy in Pittsburgh, and underperformed. As for the return, it wasn’t terrible.  Ian Cole had no intentions of re-signing with the team. Gustavsson was a better goaltending prospect, he would be sitting behind Murray and DeSmith. The first round pick could be considered a reach, but at the time, Brassard had a high price.

Acquiring a 4th round pick for Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick:

This deal was nothing more than Rutherford dumping off the free agency mistake that was Matt Hunwick.  To do so, he also had to give up Conor Sheary, who had a less than desirable year in 2017-18. However, Sheary seems to be back to his former self and is a solid 3rd line player in Buffalo.

Honorable Mentions:

Singing Matt Hunwick

Acquiring a 4th round pick for Jamie Oleksiak

Acquiring Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin

The Ugly

Signing Jack Johnson:

I think every Penguin’s fan is in agreement that this is Rutherford’s worst move as general manager.  Johnson had a bad year in 2017-18 with the Blue Jackets, and had no interest in the free agency market.  Regardless, Johnson was signed to a 5-year deal worth $3.25 million dollar per year. Johnson has easily been the Penguins worst defenseman all year, but still continues to play.

Acquiring Eric Gudbranson for Tanner Pearson:

Just when Penguin’s fans thought the team couldn’t get a defenseman worse than Johnson, Rutherford went out and got one.  Gudbranson, somehow, has worse stats than Johnson this year. Rutherford’s reasoning behind the trade revolved around the Penguins needing more “grit and intensity”.  Those characteristics can be found in many cheaper and smarter options, not in Eric Gudbranson who carries a $4 million dollar cap hit for three more years. The only positive is that Rutherford moved Pearson’s contract, but he got one just as bad back.

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