PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With the NHL Draft looming at the end of the month, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford and his staff have been going over their agenda for the off-season.
The Penguins will have roughly $13.5 million in cap space available, but the unrestricted free agent list is not all that attractive.
“The unrestricted free agent group is not as strong as it usually is,” said Rutherford. “It’s going depend what we do leading up to July as far as trades and what players we sign. We have a number of holes to fill but we will be pretty active.”
But don’t expect that activity to include any of the core players. Rutherford regards them as untouchable.
“We have a very strong core with Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Letang,” Rutherford said. “I also add Maatta to that group; he missed the season last year. He’s a young guy, but he’s a terrific young defenseman. He’ll be ready to go for camp so when we get into that group, I don’t have any interest in changing it.”
KDKA’s Bob Pompeani: “Are you of the belief the window is still very much open for this franchise?”
Rutherford: “The window for winning a championship will be open for a long time, and I don’t want to cut it off at any one date. Of course, people look more at our core guys, especially Sid and Geno, as to where they are at in their prime and say the window closes, but nobody knows who the players will be after them. But certainly with the core players we have, we still have a good opportunity here for a number of years.”
But clearly they need help up front. One popular name around here is Brandon Saad of Chicago. He becomes a restricted free agent and hot commodity.
Pompeani: “How difficult is it to sign a restricted free agent given the money involved and the compensation it would take to give up?”
Rutherford: “It’s always hard. It doesn’t matter what category these guys are in – unrestricted or restricted. The market dictates what you have to pay them. You have to be careful how much term you are giving players to where they’re at in their career, and of course, we have the cap to deal with.”
Perhaps the best way to solve the questions that need to be answered is to look within their own organization, like Tampa Bay has done with guys like the undrafted Tyler Johnson.
Pompeani: “Is there a Tyler Johnson in the Pens organization?”
Rutherford: “Well, there’s not a lot of Tyler Johnsons around. That was great find for the Lightning. But certainly we have some good young players coming. I do see us, at this point in time, without knowing what will happen on July 1, transitioning into a younger team, especially on our defense.”