Good afternoon. Back from some time off and thought we’d take a look at GM Jim Rutherford’s offseason. If we use the salary cap crunch in March as a low point for his first year, it’s fair to say the trajectory has pointed steadily upwards since the offseason began.
Rutherford stole the show on July 1 when free agency opened, landing elite winger Phil Kessel in a blockbuster trade with Toronto. Kessel is easily a 30-goal threat, maybe more and adds that coveted skill to pair with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He also signed Sergei Plotnikov out of the KHL, who he believes can fill a top-six role.
The Kessel acquisition could have made the Penguins simply more top heavy, a criticism that repeatedly comes up during the postseason. But Rutherford continued to mention the need for a fourth line center and to add more depth.
Enter the Brandon Sutter trade. Rutherford got center Nick Bonino ($1.9 million cap hit), young defenseman Adam Clendening and a second round pick in 2016 for Sutter. The move cleared salary-cap space to sign free agent Eric Fehr ($2 million) to a three-year deal.
The financial flexibility here is a key point. Sutter’s $3.3 million cap hit is cleared, making way for Bonino and Fehr whose cap hit is $3.9 million combined. Remember, Sutter was also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so the club was able to cash in on his value rather than lose him for nothing.
Though Fehr could be unavailable until December as he recovers from elbow surgery, he figures to add size, skill and some bottom-six scoring.
That is a key upside to all of this - the upgraded talent in the bottom-six and particularly on the fourth line.
Rutherford’s coup of the summer may have been the addition of Kessel but the most recent moves mean there will be some bottom-six competition in camp, which can’t be understated. Add in prospect Oskar Sundqvist, Beau Bennett, along with Scott Wilson and Bryan Rust and it will be an interesting September.
In all, fair to call this a very strong offseason for Rutherford.