Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford weighed in on some hot offseason topics.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins have sacrificed early-round draft choices for short-term personnel upgrades repeatedly in the past decade.
Now, they are trying — rather vigorously, it appears — to acquire a first-round selection in next month’s NHL draft, where the prospects pool will be particularly deep and talented.
“I’ll certainly pursue it,” general manager Jim Rutherford said, acknowledging that, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to pick up one or not.”
The Penguins traded their first-round choice, which would have been No. 16 overall, and winger Rob Klinkhammer to Edmonton Jan. 2 for winger David Perron.
The Oilers are one of six teams — Buffalo, Toronto, Arizona, Philadelphia and Winnipeg are the others — holding two first-round choices this year, and Rutherford figures to focus his efforts on some of those clubs.
“There are some teams that have acquired an abundance of first-round picks, and they may not need them all,” he said. “I’ve actually talked to a couple of those teams already.”
Sabres GM Tim Murray has made it known he’ll listen to offers for the lower of Buffalo’s two first-rounders, No. 21 overall.
The Penguins have only one selection, their second-rounder, in the first four rounds this year. Florida received their No. 3 in the 2014 trade for Marcel Goc and their fourth-rounder went to Toronto in the Feb. 25 deal for Daniel Winnik.
One outside possibility for adding a draft choice would be as compensation if former coach Dan Bylsma, who remains under contract to the Penguins, secures work with another club.
Rutherford has given Buffalo and San Jose permission to discuss coaching positions with Bylsma — New Jersey GM Ray Shero also is believed to have gotten clearance to talk to Bylsma and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes about the Devils coaching job, although Rutherford would not confirm that — and Rutherford has not ruled out seeking compensation if another team hires him.
“We haven’t gotten to that point,” he said. “That [right to seek compensation] rule kind of works against itself. On one hand, you’re paying an employee who’s not working, so teams prefer to get their salaries moved on [to another club]. But at the same time, we have a rule that, in some cases, there could be compensation.”
The Penguins did not seek compensation when Shero joined the Devils this spring, settling for having his salary removed from their books, and might well take the same approach if Bylsma is offered a job elsewhere rather than risk having a dispute over compensation become a deal-killer.
“We don’t want to jeopardize what [Shero and Bylsma] could do going forward,” Rutherford said. “We’ll just wait to see who Dan possibly could get hired by, and make that decision at the time.”
Buffalo, which made a spirited run to sign Mike Babcock as coach before he joined Toronto last week, looks to be the current front-runner for Bylsma.
If the Sabres decide to hire Bylsma, that conceivably could fuse with Buffalo’s willingness to part with the latter of its first-rounders to trigger an intriguing sequence of events: The rights to a coach the Penguins no longer want could end up being one element of a trade package that would enable them to acquire the first-round selection they crave.
Such a scenario seems highly unlikely, of course. Just like the idea that the Penguins would move aggressively to pick up a first-round draft choice used to be.
NOTE — Rutherford said “that in the very near future, hopefully within the next week or so,” he should have information on the status of defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and winger Pascal Dupuis (blood clots).
Dave Molinari: email@example.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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