Next set of tasks looms for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford


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The Penguins made no surprise free-agent signings Thursday.

Didn't pull off any trades, either.

And, while it still is possible that they'll work something out with another free agent or two -- and a trade to further remake their roster certainly can't be ruled out -- general manager Jim Rutherford soon should be able to begin devoting a little time to more mundane matters.

Like working out contracts with the six restricted free agents to whom he extended qualifying offers last month.

"We'll start that negotiating process soon," Rutherford said Thursday.

Giving qualifying offers to those players -- forwards Brandon Sutter, Nick Spaling, Jayson Megna and Bobby Farnham and defensemen Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson -- preserved the Penguins' right to match any offer they might receive from another team or to receive compensation if they would decline to match.

Now, it simply is a matter of working out contracts that are satisfactory to both sides, although that can be difficult and time-consuming.

Although Sutter, Spaling, Megna and Farnham are eligible to request salary arbitration, Rutherford said "it's too early" to know if any of them will.

It's worth noting that while a number of Penguins players have requested arbitration in previous summers, including defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in 2013, none has made it to a hearing for years. Teams and players generally manage to find common ground before a hearing takes place.

"Not always, but, yeah, that's usually what happens," Rutherford said.

The most significant -- and, quite possibly, difficult -- signing will be Sutter, who was paid $2.7 million in 2013-14, although his contract carried an annual salary-cap hit of $2,066, 667. That deal was negotiated when Sutter played for Carolina when Rutherford was GM of the Hurricanes.

Sutter, who replaced Jordan Staal as the third-line center after being acquired in the 2012 trade that sent Staal to Carolina, had a fairly ordinary regular season, but performed very well in the playoffs, when he put up five goals in 13 games.

Sutter's work during the regular season likely was adversely affected by an ever-changing cast of linemates. That won't necessarily be an issue next season, because, it's possible the wingers between whom he will skate in 2014-15 have joined the organization during the past week.

The newly arrived candidates are Blake Comeau and Steve Downie, both signed as free agents this week, and Spaling who, along with Patric Hornqvist, came over from Nashville in the deal Friday that sent James Neal to the Predators.

Although Rutherford suggested earlier this week that Spaling might be capable of holding down a spot on one of the top two lines, his personal stats to this point have been ordinary.

Spaling, 25, posted career-highs in goals (13), assists (18) and points (31) in 2013-14. It's possible, of course, that moving to a more offense-oriented team will have a positive impact on his numbers.

His just-expired contract covered one season and was worth $1.5 million.

Megna and Samuelsson both made it to the NHL last season, although they played primarily in Wilkes-Barre, and both could spend at least some time with the parent club in 2014-15.

Both were working on two-way contracts that paid a reduced salary -- $70,000 for Megna and $67,500 for Samuelsson -- when they were not in the NHL.

Farnham, an agitator and fierce forechecker, spent 2013-14 with the Baby Penguins, for whom he put up seven goals and seven assists in 75 games.

Farnham skates well and might never be more than a borderline NHL player, but his name often turned up in the conversation when the Penguins were looking to recall a forward.

That probably won't change if he can work out another agreement with them.

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NOTES — The Penguins re-signed blue-collar center Zach Sill to a one-year contract. The deal is worth $550,000 if he plays in the NHL, less if Sill is in Wilkes-Barre. Sill, 26, made his NHL debut last season, appearing in 20 games with the Penguins. He did not record a point. ... Rutherford said he expects the search for a second assistant coach to "come to an end here pretty soon," but added that coach Mike Johnston "has been looking at a few people" for the job. The apparent front-runner, Travis Green, reportedly will stay with Utica (AHL). ... Hornqvist said he has no preference between right and left wing, and that he became a guy who goes hard to the net with the Predators after being "more of a high-slot guy" while playing in Europe.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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