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Jim Rutherford Transcript: July 1

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Here is the transcript from Pens general manager Jim Rutherford's media availability on the first day of free agency.

I know you had some pretty clearly stated goals at the start of the offseason. Make the team tougher to play against, being more coachable and have easier chemistry was something else you talked about. Just wondering if you accomplished some of those goals with these moves you've made so far, and if so, how specifically?

We think so. The signing today of Brandon Tanev was really good for us. We're really happy about it. Everybody in the organization thinks very highly of him. He's a really good skater. Good penalty killer. He's a guy that when he's playing, makes our team harder to play against. Then on top of that, to your question, we've added (Alex) Galchenyuk and (Dominik) Kahun, another guy that can really skate. So we've changed the makeup of our team. Now it's training camp and a time where the coach will have to work hard to bring it all together, because you've got a few new guys and where does everybody fit? The other thing about the group of forwards that we've added is that it gives us depth throughout our lineup. Much more balance so that we can get back to where we were in '16 and '17 where the coach can roll those lines and maybe play the lines a little more on an even-minutes basis.

Do you think you got that hunger you were talking about back with some of these guys, too?

Yeah. It's new energy, new excitement. The three new guys that we've brought in that I talked to, they were so excited they were coming through the phone. (If) they bring that excitement to training camp, to our room, every day for practice and throughout the year, that's what we're looking for.

Did you have any reservations about either the cap hit or the term that you gave to Tanev with this contract?

No. It's the way things work on July 1. You either give the player close to what he wants or you don't get the player. We felt so strong about Tanev that we were willing to go as far as we had to go to make sure we got him. I mean, you never know with any player as to the term of a contract, whether it works or long it's going to work. But it's what you have to do to get the player. And quite frankly, at Tanev's age, the way he takes care of himself, the way he skates, I don't have an issue with the term.

How would you describe your cap situation now with a couple RFAs to sign? It looks to the outside like you're going to have to move a quality player.

Tight. 

Is that assumption right, that you're probably going to have to move a quality player?

There's a good chance we will have to make another move, yes.

How much did you like Tanev's ability as a two-way player and penalty killer? How key was that?

We liked that a lot. He's a great penalty killer and he's got the good speed, he gets chances on the PK to score. But the speed, the fact that we feel he can move up and down the lineup a little bit, hard to play against 5-on-5, good team guy - I talked to some people that have followed him really close and everybody spoke very highly of him. 

With a lot of your moves this offseason, you've alluded to a team that plays together a little more, that has better chemistry. Knowing your coach and his contract situation, would you expect to have Mike (Sullivan) signed to an extension going into this season?

I don't know. Up until this point, my focus was to change some of the players. There's obviously some work I have to do going forward, make some decisions. Personally, I feel Mike is a terrific coach. He's done a very good job here. He has good communication with the players and I would like to see him stay long-term. But when I get to that, I don't know.

Do you have any concern with a coach entering the final year of his contract knowing that there's no security there?
Well, there's positives and negatives to that. So yeah, you do have some concerns. But it can work both ways.

With Tanev not being drafted, was he a guy that slipped through the cracks when he was younger? Or has he made himself into the player that you like now?

No, he's made himself into the player. He's worked hard at it. Some guys develop later in their career. Some guys come right out of their draft year and step into the league and play. But one of the things we like about him is his character and how hard he works. He's one of those guys that had to work hard to get to where he's gotten. Mike Sullivan and I had a conversation with him a few days ago about coming to Pittsburgh and it was a great conversation. And then when we were able to do the deal today, he was very excited. So he should be a good fit here.

How important was adding more versatility to the forward group, coming off of last year when you had a couple guys hammered into the right wing spot? Do you have a bunch of guys that can play center and both wings between Kahun and Galchenyuk?

We feel with Galchenyuk, wing is the best place for him. He's a shooter. He's a scorer. He can play center, but he can only get to third-line center on our team. I don't think he's getting into the first two spots. Kahun can play center. Chicago signed him as a center, but he played the wing. When you think about where we were a year ago, wondering what we were going to do with our center ice and the depth we had to where we are today, where you've got (Jared) McCann playing the wing that's a natural center, you've got Kahun on the wing, you're going to have Galchenyuk - we certainly have a lot of depth there and of course, (Teddy) Blueger has established himself now as a regular NHL player. So we feel pretty good about our strength there.

At the end of the season you talked about being happy with your defense. Then you see all the moves you've made during the offseason and they're all focused on forwards. I know you've talked to tons of GMs and heard what was out there on defense - does that reaffirm that belief in your mind that you like the way your D is right now?

I like the way our D is structured because at the start of last year, we started (Jack) Johnson on the right side and that was harder for him to play that side. We got him to his natural side and he played better. We were able to get (Erik) Gudbranson in. So my point is that the structure of our defense, where we got the right shots where they should be and the left shots where they should be, is what I like. Can we make it better? Sure. You can always make your defense better. I'm not saying it's the best defense in the league. But it's a solid defense and it's a good enough defense. (Juuso) Riikola will be going into his second year. Certainly we feel he'll be better, he'll step up, he'll push for one of those regular spots. At this point, I'm comfortable with our defense.

When you look at the other moves made by the teams in your division, how would you assess the difficulty of just qualifying for the playoffs this year for anybody in the Metro or the East compared to previous years?

It gets tougher. It's tough every year. When you look at how you basically have to get 98 or 100 points, you have to have a really good year and you can't stumble much during the regular season or you could get in a hole. You look at the non-playoff teams, they were positioned cap-wise for the amount of moves they made and they've certainly improved themselves. As long as we're healthy and play the way we're capable, we're a good team. We'll contend for the Cup.

Later today, we'll have an announcement on a couple depth guys that we'll give a chance to make the team. Worst-case scenario, they'll be really good depth guys. I don't have that 100 percent complete, so I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. For you guys that text me, don't, because I'm not going to answer (laughs).

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