Jim Rutherford, the Penguins’ new general manager, knows he has no choice but to rely on the team’s existing amateur scouting staff for the draft June 27-28 in Philadelphia.
“Totally,” Rutherford said.
He also has to be aware that, given ownership’s public expression of displeasure with how the Penguins drafted in Ray Shero’s tenure as GM, many observers expect him to cut most, if not all, of those scouts loose sometime this summer.
Perhaps just days after the Penguins make their final selection at the Wells Fargo Center.
But that, Rutherford said, won’t necessarily happen.
“I don’t see it that way,” he said.
Oh, he acknowledged that it could, but insists that members of the staff Shero assembled will have an opportunity to prove they should keep their jobs.
“Evaluating the scouting staff, from where I sit, it’s going to take some time,” he said. “It’s not going to get done prior to the draft.
“I’ll just be getting to know some of these guys. Then I’ll start to make decisions, when the offseason comes.
“I’m a patient guy, and I’m a guy that works with everybody. Sometimes I can help in certain areas and sometimes I can’t.
“But I lean more to the patient side, and trying to get to know and trying to work with people and see if we can improve.”
Rutherford’s mandate is to change the direction of the franchise, but he seems willing to use a whisk broom to clean things up, unless he concludes at some point that an industrial-sized one is called for.
He has spoken much more of upgrading the Penguins’ supporting cast than of revamping their core, although he won’t rule out making a major trade in the reasonably near future if an attractive one is proposed.
“If there’s a good change that comes along, then I’ll look at a change,” he said.
Although high-impact swaps frequently occur in the days leading up to and during the draft, Rutherford said “I don’t feel any urgency” to alter the Penguins roster in that span.
Indeed, like Shero, he said the emphasis should be on what the lineup looks like at the trade deadline late next winter, not in mid-summer or the early weeks of the regular season.
“You really can’t judge your team [at the start of the season] as to where you’re going to be for the playoffs,” he said. “If I don’t make an impact until we’re getting ready for the playoff run … I’m not in a hurry to do that.”
The Penguins have 14 players under contract for 2014-15, with about $55.1 million committed to them, and a projected salary-cap ceiling around $71 million.
That explains why Rutherford, at his introductory news conference Friday, said “free agency for the Penguins this year might not be as exciting [as usual]. … We’re up against the cap.”
That could change before the signing period starts July 1, of course, but Rutherford said that adding salary-cap space before then is not a top priority.
“I’d prefer to [clear some cap space], but I’m not going to look at it as being ‘urgent,’ ” he said. “I’m not going to do it just to do it.”
His most immediate concern, Rutherford suggested, is the defense, which is an organizational strength overall, but could be an issue early in 2014-15 because Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot are recovering from surgery and might not be available.
“We have to look at what we think we have as a top four or five,” he said. “If we get a comfort level with that, I’m not sure we have to bring anyone in right away.
“Now, we may get to that point during the season or when we’re really gearing the team up for the playoffs, but I don’t know if I’d jump in right away.”
Rutherford said that while he believes he has enough of a feel for his new players’ abilities that he wouldn’t be reluctant to make a major trade, he still must learn how each figures into the team’s locker-room chemistry.
“I’m comfortable enough that I know the talent of the team, and how I rate the players,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to make a trade today, [because] I’m not comfortable enough to know the information of the inner workings of the players and how they fit together and all those things.”
Nonetheless, when his phone rings in coming days, Rutherford won’t hesitate to pick it up.
“Teams are going to be calling,” he said. “They always do. If we could get a little more grit up front to be able to be prepared for a couple of those teams in the East that are a little tougher to play, I may make a deal sooner than later.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.