If there was an NHL team that had the potential for a three-peat in recent history, the Pittsburgh Penguins would be it. Winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships after the firing of coach Mike Johnston in favor of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach, Mike Sullivan, after a miserable start to the 2015-16 season, had many thinking that it could be done. As then Assistant GM, Jason Botterill, accepted the GM vacancy for the Buffalo Sabres, Jim Rutherford would have to move forward from where the team left off. When reviewing certain moves by the Penguins, post-Botterill, one big move may have some wondering whether Rutherford has the team moving backwards with some good years left with Sidney Crosby.
Bad decisions were made as the 2017 NHL Entry Draft commenced as Pittsburgh decided to trade their first-round pick (31st -Klim Kostin) and prospect Oskar Sundqvist for Ryan Reaves and a second round pick (51st -Zachary Lauzon). Yes, a first-round pick was traded for a player that averages 6:01 a night. Apparently, the management believed that Crosby needed “special protection” as he is a target for physical play by opponents. The toughness of Reaves should be a deterrent to the opposition from taking advantage of their star because they obviously needed it to win their last two Cups.
As of Monday, December 18, the Penguins find themselves with 37 points, good for 6th in the Metropolitan Division and 9th in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, they would be out of the playoffs. Jim Rutherford has said good bye to Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, and Scott Wilson from their Stanley Cup winning roster. Letting Fleury go to Las Vegas in expansion was an obvious move due to the taking of the net by Matt Murray while Bonino got the pay day in Nashville. Matt Cullen left to sign with Minnesota but is a fourth line center that can be replaced and Wilson, and a third-round pick, were sent to Detroit (now Buffalo) for Riley Sheahan and a fifth. Sheahan has been Bonino’s replacement and it has not been too bad an alternative. But there is still that one move that just makes you question any thereafter.
It is understood that a franchise cannot sign everyone. But one would think that a GM could receive more for a first-round pick than an enforcer with limited ice time as a means of recovering. Would Doug Armstrong, Blue’s GM, demand this compensation for a player whose style is…well, going out of style? Could they not have asked for Dmitrij Jaskin or Jordan Schmaltz and seen what happens? Or could they have just talked to the 29 other NHL teams and gotten a better return?
It must be nice to be in a situation where a team can trade a first and a prospect for a player with as many fighting majors as shots on goal yet still likely to be in a playoff spot as the season concludes. I do remember Twitter going nuts, with Penguins’ fans wanting Jason Botterill to come back. And is it bad that I was laughing when this trade came down?
No, I do not run a professional sports franchise and do not fully understand the importance of a player that can protect others. But I feel that giving a first-rounder does not seem like a good idea and that I am not maximizing my return by doing so. The 2017 draft was not considered an embarrassment of riches but if I have a decent scouting staff, I may pick a player that will skate more than 7 minutes a night when he breaks into the NHL. And since the Penguins are struggling, a forward with a 0.8 points per 60 minutes is not helping the cause.
I may be one of those people that questioned why the Pittsburgh Penguins did not just promote Botterill instead of hiring the ex-Hurricane GM but it may have been the better move. The guy was credited for much of the success and development of players while they won Cups yet they went with the boss that lucked his way to a Stanley Cup in 2006 and had only marginal success ever since. The extension of Marc Andre Fleury should have been cause for questioning upon Rutherford’s start with the franchise.
Not every move has been bad but Rutherford may need to get more from trades involving the Penguins’ high draft picks or he will find himself out of a job once again. He has just added struggling defenseman, Jamie Oleksiak from Dallas for a fourth in 2019 while exchanging Josh Archibald, goaltender Sean Maguire, and a 2019 sixth for goaltender Michael Leighton but it is a big question mark of whether this trade has much impact. The Penguins are in a funk that must be fixed or ownership will question why they let their Assistant GM out the door.