Rutherford: Pens ‘Weren’t a Team From Day One’

Penguins GM with scathing remarks on current roster as season comes to close

Josh Rowntree
April 18, 2019 - 1:25 pm
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford at a press conference in 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

Related: Malkin: Islanders Were Hungrier Team

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - Jim Rutherford is not going to stand for what he saw from his team this season.

The Penguins’ general manager, during his season-ending press conference, delivered harsh analysis on the current state of the Penguins’ roster, focusing primarily on the attitudes of certain players. 

“In those years we won (back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017), we were a team,” said Rutherford, who stood alongside Mike Sullivan Thursday afternoon at the team’s UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “We were a very tight-knit team. And I didn’t see that this year, almost from day one.

“I didn’t see a point where our guys came together as a team. And I wonder if there’s too many guys content with where they’re at in their careers after winning a couple Stanley Cups. And is that a signal where some of that has to be changed, where you’ve got that eagerness again?”

Rutherford tried, throughout the year, to execute numerous trades in an attempt to get better cohesion in his group. But the result was a stunning four-game series lost to the Islanders. 

“When you look at our team this year, with the inconsistency, we still got 100 points, but it wasn’t a comfortable 100 points,” he said.

“Our team played as a team in March. We had a tough schedule, we played a lot of games, we played the game the right way and that’s when we played at our best. 

“We were tracking towards being a good playoff team and we ran up against a team that was more determined and played the game the right way. And we played at a higher risk. It was there, we saw it in March. And it can certainly be there in the future, but it won’t be the exact same team.”

While Penguins players seemed to think Thursday that this roster, as is, can deliver the team back to postseason success, Rutherford seems to think the opposite. 

“I don’t think ‘as is,’ but the window is still open,” he said. “It should be open for more than just one year, also. But, I’ll say the obvious, based on how things finished, we’re not going to be able to do it the way we finished.”

Comparatively, from a talent-to-talent standpoint, the Islanders should not have been able to so quickly defeat a Penguins team filled with highly-skilled, star caliber players. But there is more to hockey than just ability.

“There’s a bunch of things that were different between the Islanders and the Penguins and the reason that the Islanders won four straight,” Rutherford said. “They played the right way and they were eager to win. They were determined and the Penguins weren’t.”

Rutherford will have some options, potentially, if he intends to explore a significant, blockbuster trade. The likeliest players to go seem to be wingers Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist, with big money deals and age becoming a factor. But Rutherford could look to go even bigger, some speculate. And Rutherford's comments did not exactly squash those rumors.

“We have a lot of good players, players with good resumés, players that have won Stanley Cups and players that have contributed big to that,” he said. “Depending on what changes we decide to make, we have valuable assets to make those changes.”

There will be time to analyze. Pittsburgh has not finished a season this early in 14 years. But a shakeup seems inevitable after Thursday’s comments. 

“We’re still a little bit emotional with the disappointment of how this ended,” Rutherford added. “I think the best thing for me to do is take a little bit of to think through this.  

“Some big decisions will have to be made. Obviously there will be changes made in our team.”

Hear more of what Jim Rutherford and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had to say below. 

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