David Morehouse introduces new Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford to the media at at CONSOL Energy Center earlier this month.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LAS VEGAS — The juggling act is getting more precarious for Jim Rutherford, but it’s not as if he didn’t expect this after accepting the Penguins general manager position earlier this month.
“I took this job at probably the busiest time, the four-week period, for a general manager,” Rutherford said Monday.
Rutherford addressed several ongoing and upcoming situations.
He spent the weekend pondering his search for a coach and contacting a few new potential candidates.
“I’ve reached out to a couple of guys that were not on my original [candidates] list,” Rutherford said, adding that they are coaches he initially believed were unavailable or committed elsewhere but now seem like possibilities.
“They’re very good candidates,” he said without offering any names.
John Hynes, the coach of the Penguins American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton remained the only candidate identified by Rutherford. It is believed that Hynes is no longer under serious consideration and that the Penguins will go outside of the organization to replaced the fired Dan Bylsma.
The Penguins are the only team without a coach after Vancouver introduced Willie Desjardins Monday. Desjardins was in Pittsburgh late last week, but he and Rutherford could not reach an agreement. That caused a public backlash against the Penguins for a perceived botched or prolonged search, but Rutherford is far from discouraged.
“The process for [finding] a coach is right on the time frame that I was hoping for,” he said.
“I guess people get anxious. They want news sooner. I’m trying to do a thorough search here and bring in a coach that really wants to come here and who will do a good job.”
Desjardins told reporters in Vancouver that neither the Penguins nor he were to blame for things not working out and that autonomy over hiring all his assistant coaches was something of a sticking point, more so than the contract’s length.
Rutherford would like to hire a coach before the start of free agency next Tuesday, but there are a lot of other things happening before then, too.
Wednesday, a window opens for teams to interview other clubs’ prospective free agents, although negotiations are prohibited before next Tuesday.
“I have a list of guys we’re going to contact starting Wednesday to make them aware we’re interested in them,” Rutherford said, indicating that an upgrade on the third and fourth forward lines is a priority.
“I’d like to get some more balance in our forwards, one through 12, and then am open to anything, really, if we have the [salary-cap] space,” he said.
As for the Penguins’ long list of players eligible for unrestricted free agency, Rutherford seems skeptical he will be able to re-sign some of them, although he noted, “We haven’t told anybody we’re moving on from them.”
Pending free agents Matt Niskanen, a defenseman, and winger Jussi Jokinen might have priced themselves out of reach with strong seasons, and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik’s status remains unclear.
“I have talked to the agents of our UFAs to see how much they’re looking for,” Rutherford said. “The prices are high.”
Others don’t have as much leverage, including speedy winger Brian Gibbons, who spent time on the top line during his rookie season but has only 41 games of NHL experience.
“Gibbons did a good job. A good little player,” Rutherford said.
In the midst of the coaching search and free-agency preparation is the NHL draft Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia. Rutherford is relying on what he considers strong preparation by the team’s holdover staff.
The Penguins have the 22nd pick in the first round but no second- or third-round picks. Rutherford said he would be open to trading up in the first round or trading that first-round pick — or looking at other trade scenarios, which tend to be plentiful at the draft.
“I would consider any of those options,” he said, adding that if the Penguins pick 22nd, he hopes to select a forward.
•NOTES — Center Sidney Crosby was in Vancouver Monday for a celebration in which he got his ring from Team Canada’s gold-medal performance at the Sochi Olympics, so he could not participate in interviews with other NHL awards finalists in Las Vegas. He is expected to be at the league’s awards show tonight. Crosby will accept the Art Ross Trophy for winning the NHL scoring title and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player, as voted by fellow players). … Goaltender Tristan Jarry, a Penguins second-round pick in 2013 who recently helped the junior Edmonton Oil Kings win the Memorial Cup, has been invited to Team Canada’s national junior development camp in August.
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