The veteran manager made an appearance on a Pittsburgh radio show on Friday to share his thoughts on the back-to-back champions’ off-season situation. Among the topics discussed was the speculation surrounding the Penguins’ impending trade for a centreman to replace former third-liner Nick Bonino, who signed with the Nashville Predators earlier this summer.
While Pittsburgh has been linked to a few big-name trade options, Rutherford’s projections seemed to rule out a blockbuster.
Said the Penguins manager when asked if his club can afford to pay $4-5 million for a third-line pivot:
“No, no, no. We’re probably in around the $2-million range,” Rutherford said of the cap space allotted for his next centre. “Because now we’ve got two guys going to arbitration [Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary]. We don’t know what those awards will be. We have our own projections and if we’re right on our own projections, then we’re probably in around the $2-million area [for a third-line centre].”
Both Staal and Duchene are owed $6 million annually, putting them well above the range Rutherford seems to believe is workable.
With restricted free agents Dumoulin and Sheary expected to earn a combined $6-7 million on their new deals next season, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Jason Mackey, Rutherford’s projection seems fairly set in stone.
The three-time champion executive did say his club has options, though it appears Rutherford is biding his time to find the right fit.
“There’s centres right now that I could make trades for if I wanted to do it today,” Rutherford said. “I think that there’s other guys that could become available that we have higher up on our list. So right now I continue to talk to teams and wait until the right time comes that we can get a guy that, one, fits into our cap for now – and the projection going forward with the contracts we have to sign next year – and a guy that we feel can fit the role in our room and on the ice and help us.”
The possibility of Pittsburgh landing a big fish later this summer can’t be counted out completely, especially with the club in the hands of a general manager who’s carried out big-ticket deals involving names like Phil Kessel, James Neal, and Staal in the past. But with those hands seemingly tied by the Penguins’ salary cap situation, a deal to land a premier, bottom-six forward likely won’t come unless Rutherford decides to significantly shake up his championship roster.
Key to consider is the fact that the last time Pittsburgh looked to revamp the third-line centre position, they did so by acquiring a fairly under-the-radar name in Bonino. At the time, the eventual HBK line anchor was earning just $1.9 million per season and had been traded two times in as many years.
Given that precedent and Rutherford’s comments regarding the Penguins’ $2-million plans, a similar low-key move seems the most likely outcome as the club looks to fill a key hole heading into 2017-18.