The Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the biggest surprises of the qualification round, ousted by the 12-seed Montreal Canadiens. Not only was it surprising because the Canadiens likely weren’t even going to make the playoffs had the season not been cut short, but the Penguins had fought through so much adversity to even get to that point. Head coach Mike Sullivan had guided his group through catastrophic injuries to almost all of the team’s top players while dealing with a horrendous performance from his expected starting goaltender.
There is something wrong. Changes need to be made.
Rutherford went on to say that the team starts to “fizzle out” when things don’t go their way and that even though the coaching staff navigated the regular season well there is a pattern developing at the end of the year. The entire availability was an executive who is primed to make sweeping changes, though Rutherford did explain that he is still committed to the core—Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang especially.
The Hall of Fame GM has never been shy about pulling the trigger and making splashy headline-grabbing moves. Last summer after he felt his team needed a change Rutherford twice traded Phil Kessel, only for the first one to be blocked by the enigmatic winger. During the year he pushed his chips to the middle again and tried to give them a chance to win by acquiring Jason Zucker, only to see them go down before even reaching the regular playoffs.
This time, it sounds as though one of the big changes will come on defense. Though Jack Johnson has been pummeled in the media for his disastrous play during the short postseason, Rutherford pointed the finger directly at his partner instead. Again, from Yohe:
I know everybody picks on Jack and they have for a long time, but I think, in that pairing, Justin Schultz had a lot more to give.
Schultz happens to be an unrestricted free agent this summer while Johnson still has three years on his deal, but it now seems unlikely that the pair will be reunited in the future. The 30-year old Schultz had an outstanding season in 2016-17 when Letang was injured for much of the year and earned himself a three-year, $16.5MM extension. That deal started poorly and ended even worse, however, given the performances that followed. In 46 games this season, Schultz only recorded three goals and 12 points.
But letting Schultz walk away won’t be the only move Rutherford makes. He also once again mentioned how it will be difficult to keep both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, given they are both restricted free agents and the salary cap will not be increasing. Moving one of them could help in another area, but don’t be surprised if you see even more drastic and sweeping changes to the Penguins before the 2020-21 season begins.