Penguins GM Rutherford can dangle a decent bargaining chip at teams
Casey DeSmith’s signing could precede another move from Penguins.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — While the Penguins have found their on-ice game, general manager Jim Rutherford has been firing a few fastballs of his own lately, signing Jake Guentzel and Casey DeSmith to teamfriendly contract extensions.
It looks like strike three from Rutherford could be on its way, too.
While the GM said he’s thrilled to have DeSmith under contract for three more seasons beyond this one, he also knows what it means on the back end: That the Penguins probably don’t have space for former secondround pick Tristan Jarry, 23, who could fetch a pretty penny on the trade market.
Couple that with Rutherford’s (well-earned) reputation as one of the NHL’s most aggressive GMs, a history of striking early and the fact that the Penguins soon will have nine NHL-caliber defensemen once Justin Schultz returns, and the signs are there for Rutherford to do his thing. And potentially soon. “By having Casey signed now, this gives us more options going forward, possibly even prior to the deadline,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday. “I like the idea that we have some depth there, preparing for the playoffs, but sometimes something comes along that you have to consider and maybe do earlier than you want.”
One of the reasons this could get interesting is because of the position in question. Good, young goaltenders are hard to find, and that’s exactly what that is. Plenty of teams could build around Jarry, and many already have expressed interest.
It also should be noted that time is ticking; Jarry’s two-way contract turns into a one-way pact next season.
As a rookie in 2017-18, Jarry won 14 of his 23 starts with the NHL club and played to a 2.77 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Couple that with a solid defenseman, and Rutherford should have no problem pulling something off — assuming he finds the right deal.
Among defensemen, Jamie Oleksiak is viewed as most likely to go for a variety of reasons, none of which are an indictment of his ability. He’s a perfectly capable NHL defenseman.
One factor here is money. Moving Oleksiak would give the Penguins $2,137,500 of cap space; a trade would not require them to backfill that spot because of the depth on their roster.
Oleksiak also is signed for two more years beyond this one. Having that sort of costcertainty, for a player who has a physical element to his game and functions perfectly fine as a third-pair defender, Oleksiak should not be hard at all to move should the Penguins decide to go that route.
Regardless, Rutherford knows something will happen on the back end.
“We’re going to have nine defensemen at some point,” Rutherford said. “I like the fact that we have nine, and I like our nine defensemen. But it would be hard to believe that we would be able to carry nine when everybody is healthy. It’s tough with eight trying to keep guys getting some ice time and getting some games. So, yeah, we’re watching that situation.”
Take it a step further. Say the Penguins wanted to do something bigger and potentially upgrade their third-line center spot. Derick Brassard has shown signs of getting better, but they know they need more from that position — and that line — to make another Cup run.
Think about it: In a theoretical trade scenario, Rutherford could be dangling a top goalie prospect, a No. 5 defenseman with size and club control and a center other teams could see as a fit if deployed differently.
All of that, and the Penguins could have more than $5 million going out.
“I don’t have a good answer for that right now,” Rutherford said when asked whether he’s now positioned to do something significant. “The thing that I can answer is that with this signing, it could potentially give us more flexibility.”
Signing DeSmith also was a positive, Rutherford said, for the player himself.
After working his way up from the ECHL, DeSmith has stuck with it, persevered and enjoyed a breakout year, winning 12 of his 13 starts while ranking 13th along qualifying goaltenders in goalsagainst average (2.53) and tied for eighth in save percentage (.921) entering Sunday.
“He stuck with it when lots of guys wouldn’t,” Rutherford said. “You get to that stage of your hockey career and you’re not sure where it’s going. His determination got him to the National Hockey League, and he’s played very well for us.”
Penguins’ goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry has put general manager Jim Rutherford and the team in an interesting situation.