Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford met with the media on Tuesday to wrap up the 2014-15 season. Here is the full transcript of his remarks.Opening remarks:
Thank you for coming. Our season’s come to an end. We fell short of our goal. We fell short of our expectations. Obviously that’s very disappointing for us all. So now we have to move forward.
I’ll briefly run through our year. We started off the season, we had to make some changes, we lost some players to free agency. We made an offseason trade and so there were a number of changes for our team.
For the most part, our team competed well, played pretty well. We dealt with some adversity early, losing (Olli) Maatta and (Pascal) Dupuis. We were able to fill the hole that was Dupuis not totally, but by making a deal and getting (David) Perron. Perron came in early, did some good things, scored some big goals, helped us win some games.
There were a lot of things happened. I won’t go through them all but some of the strange things such as the mumps we had to deal with, certainly that affected some of our players. Not only in that window of having the mumps but the recovery period. I would say for most guys that had the mumps that was a three-week period that they had to deal with.
We got to the trade deadline. We decided that our team was pretty close. We wanted to make a few changes on our defense. We wanted to add a little bit more experience. We made the two deals bringing (Ian) Cole and (Ben) Lovejoy in. I believe that those deals helped us in the short-term. It didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned, because both of those guys were supposed to fit into certain slots playing a certain number of minutes, but that would have been if (Christian) Ehrhoff was playing and (Kris) Letang was playing. So then we had to lean on them to play a lot more minutes and I think Lovejoy played a couple games where he played 27 minutes and Cole was playing 24 minutes. But with that being said, I think our defense played reasonably well down the stretch and then the playoffs.
So we get to the middle of March, right after the deadline we take a trip to the West Coast. We had five out of six points, the one point we didn’t get was in San Jose but we dominated that game. When I came back off that trip I thought our team was really in good shape and a team that was as good as any other team in the league and we really had a strong chance to compete and play into June.
At that point Ehrhoff went out with 10 games left, Letang went out, and those were huge losses for our team that we couldn’t overcome down the stretch. Both of those guys were puck movers, we missed that on the back end. I think it affected our goals for because our transition game was affected and it affects our forwards when they’re not getting the puck when they should.
I like what our players did in the playoffs. I know it was only five games, but we competed hard and we gave the Rangers everything they could handle. I know we can talk about injuries and not trying to make excuses. We can talk about breaks in games. You make your own breaks. But we could have easily gotten some breaks in those games against the Rangers could have gone the other way. So it’s disappointing we’re out as early as we are and we didn’t reach our goal. But that’s my summary of the season and I’ll open it up to questions.One of the significant shortcomings of the season was the power play. What can you do organizationally? I know you’re bringing the same coaching staff back, but what can you do organizationally with all the talent you have? In fairness, that’s not an area that was really affected by injury.
It was affected by injuries at the end because a couple of key guys (were injured). No Letang, no (Derrick) Pouliot, because that was one of the areas that young defensemen could have helped a little bit.
But that’s a fair point. I don’t believe that our power play shoots the puck enough. When you look at the successful power plays in this league, and they have good players but I don’t believe as good of players as we have, is that too often we try to make the perfect play. And if you look early in the year when we were clicking along at a much higher pace than we knew we were going to, we shot the puck a lot and we worked off of rebounds and worked off of getting a break and through the box.
Based on talking to the players yesterday, I think the players are aware of what changes need to be made on the power play. But as the season went along, I agree, our power play was disappointing and underperformed, but it can be fixed because we have the players that are capable of doing it.Last summer you said that you planned on being here for two to three years. Can you give us an update on that timeline? How much did you enjoy your first year being back in Pittsburgh after so many decades?
I now plan on staying for about 12 years (laughs). I enjoyed it, but I’m like you guys and I’m like the fans. I’m disappointed. We’ve been through periods of time that were difficult. But it’s part of my job. But overall, I haven’t been here a full year yet and I do have a better lay of the land as to how things work here now. I have a much better handle on the team and I don’t know how long I plan on staying here, but I certainly plan on staying here as we speak and go on into next season.How would you evaluate the job that Mike Johnston did in his first year on the job and how is that evaluation affected by the limitations due to the injuries at the end of the season?
I think Mike did a really good job. He had really good communication with the players and based on my meetings with the players yesterday, I have that confirmed. I like to have exit meetings with the players apart from the coach so if they want to say something, they’re comfortable saying it.
I feel very comfortable that we were going in the right direction. Some players really had terrific years. I don’t want to give Mike necessarily the credit for Marc-Andre Fleury. That’s really Mike Bales and Fleury himself, but that’s two years in a row, that was before there were any changes. I thought Fleury had a very consistent good year. Two years ago (he did) and again this year he had a terrific year, but part of that can be attributed to Mike (Johnston) because I don’t believe we gave up as many quality scoring chances this year. We tightened that up and even Fleury talked about it in my meeting. He liked how we tightened things up. We reduced our goals against, our penalty killing was good, we just talked about our power play – it wasn’t as good as it should be, but we have the guys that can fix that and make it better.
And same thing, Mike’s getting used to these players and how they work and he’s dealing with superstar players and things like that, but overall he made adjustments when necessary. He dealt with tough situations at times and I think that when you look at the playoffs and the adjustments that needed to be made, we didn’t score but we played in a low-scoring series. Unfortunately they scored one more than we did in some games, but we played in a series that had great goaltending for both teams. For the most part, we created some pretty good scoring chances and I think overall Mike and his staff did a good job.What do you want to see from (Kasperi) Kapanen, (Oskar) Sundqvist and Pouliot in the AHL playoffs and is it in the realm of reality that we potentially see all of them here next year?
They will put themselves in a position that they’ll have a chance to be here. The one thing that I don’t want to do is lock into one-way contracts going into training camp so that it blocks these guys out. So it’s not just them. You’ve got some younger guys there that have put themselves in a position. (Scott) Wilson and (Bryan) Rust, (Andrew) Ebbett’s not as young but he’s a good player. So is (Jayson) Megna. And I’m just talking about forwards now. But I just want to see Kapanen and Sundqvist adjust to North America, adjust to the North American style. Kapanen had a really good first game and then he dropped off a bit for a couple of games. He got hurt. Now he’s back on track and he’s playing really well. Let me say this: they will be given a very good opportunity to make the Penguins next year.Looking back, probably in a general sense, what did this team lack and what will your priority be to maybe fix that in this offseason?
There was a long period of time – and I think we got better at this in the last month when Mike clamped down on the discipline – where this team wasn’t a real disciplined team at times, whether it was taking penalties at the wrong time or too many penalties in a game or the talking back to the officials and things like that. But I think when Mike really clamped down on it with about a month left in the season, our players responded to it. They were much more disciplined. That’s something we have to be much, much better at next year.
(With) some of the other things, I really think we’re a team that was able to win in all ways this year. If we got into the physical games, we had some guys that would step up physically and were able to do it. (Same if) we got in the higher-scoring games or got in the lower-scoring games. So that was a credit to some of the players that really adjusted their game compared to how their careers have gone. And (Sidney Crosby) is the best example of that. I’m so proud of what he did in becoming that all-around player coming back in his own end deep and helping out and also getting his points. If he hadn’t had the mumps and gone through that three-week period he still would have won the scoring race and played an all-around game. And that’s the kind of game and the leadership you need to ultimately win championships. So that was a big step forward.You talked about the communication that Mike had with the players, but it seemed to me that he would stand up here in front of us and say the same things that you would say in that we need to shoot the puck more, and yet they wouldn’t shoot the puck more. Where do you sort of put the breakdown on that?
Well, I think both the coaching staff and the players have to take some of that responsibility. It’s like all of us. We don’t get 100 percent of the things right. But overall, I’m saying Mike did a good job. But yeah, some of that responsibility falls back on the coaches and the players. I mean, you can only tell them so many times and show them so many times how other power plays are working until the players need to do that. We have two of the best players in the game. And I believe our defenseman, in Letang, should be in the voting for the Norris. He’s not in the top three, but he’s certainly right there with those guys. He had a great year. So we have the players who can do it. The downside is they’re so talented is they’re trying to make those perfect goals and those perfect plays and in order to do that, you have to shoot the puck, you have to break up the box and then you’re going to get your perfect goals. And I think that’s where the adjustment has to be made.What’s your assessment of Beau Bennett at this stage in his career and what is his future with the organization?
We made a mistake on Beau Bennett as far as development-wise. I’ll take the responsibility for that. When it was getting closer for him to become a waivered player, I felt that we should’ve sent him to Wilkes-Barre and let him play a lot. He’s a guy that hasn’t played enough over the years. And so we kept him around that time. Actually the first game that he became a waivered player he had the big game in Montreal. He’s not consistent enough. He’s not strong enough. But he’s a very talented player. And I do think down the stretch, probably about the last three weeks, he was starting to move in the right direction. So we just have to keep working and developing him, but I believe he’s going to be a good NHL player. I hope it’s starting next year and not the year after, but at some point in time he’s going to get it.The endless search for the right wingers for Crosby and Malkin seems to continue. People wonder if Perron is going to be the answer up there. How will you go about filling those slots? Do you think the answer is internally? Will you have the money to spend in free agency? What’s the plan for wingers for those two?
Well, it’s not a great free agency crop. I do believe that we have to continue to look for these players. (Patric) Hornqvist is one, whether he plays with ‘Sid’ or ‘Geno.’ He’s a guy that can help those players. But to try and get a little more skill and maybe get one or two more wingers that are more complementary to those players is something that’s been a goal of this franchise for a while and continues to be. So we will start looking and see what’s out there trade-wise. I think it’s going to be more apt to be in a trade than it will be in free agency. But I’m well aware that’s something we have to continue to look for and that’s what we’ll do.There are some older guys on this roster who still make a lot of money. Will you consider trading one of them or is using a buyout something you have the authority from ownership to do, and would you consider it?
Yes, I have full support from ownership to do what’s necessary going forward to give this team a better chance to win. I think we’ll keep all options on the table in that regard. But I don’t want to suggest I’m giving up on some of these older players because they can still contribute. But everything will be in the mix when we look at trying to make the team better. Jim, you talked about Geno. How banged up was he in the playoffs? Everyone suspected that he had an injury that he played with. How much was he banged up, what’s the health of the team going into the offseason, do you expect some surgeries for anybody or is the team relatively healthy, and do you expect Geno to play for Russia at the World Championship?
Geno’s the type of guy that’s not going to use excuses. But he sprained his ankle and he came back sooner than most players would. He continued to play on an ankle that was not 100 percent. Hornqvist was the same. He had a broken rib. He came back and he played with it. And then of course Letang and Ehrhoff, they’re at the end on top of Maatta and Dupuis. I do believe Geno’s going to go and play for Russia. He told me yesterday he wasn’t sure he’d play all the games, but he’s committed to his country. He didn’t want to say no to them. So he will go over there and I think he’ll kind of play it by ear. But I would suspect he’ll play some games, (just) not at 100 percent.Jim, at the trade deadline you talked about wanting to give some of the young defensemen chances – (Scott) Harrington, (Brian) Dumoulin, Maatta, Pouliot, are you prepared to do that moving forward? Especially with consideration to some of the veteran free agent defensemen you have.
Well, they have come of age. Their development has come along very nicely. And at some point, we have to put these defensemen in or their development’s going to go the other way. So that’s what we have to weigh now. We’ll have hockey meetings here probably for the next 30 days that already started this morning. I’m going to meet with the coaches this afternoon, try to get a consensus of where we’re at. And we’ll have to make a decision. I feel pretty confident that Letang and Dupuis will recover 100 percent and be with us in September. But with the type of injuries that these guys had, especially Letang being that we’re talking about defensemen, you always have to keep that in the back of your mind as to how many veteran defensemen you have and how many young guys you have. But we have very good young defensemen that have shown signs that they’re ready to play.Jim, for years this team could score goals with its eyes closed almost. And then this season, scoring seemed to be difficult for a good part of the last half of the season. I wonder if you could talk about that and also what role you think youth and speed could play in terms of maybe getting some of that scoring back?
Well, you answered your own question. We’d like to get more speed in our lineup and we would like to get some of these younger players started. So I do think that’s going to help, that young energy in our lineup. How many of those guys will go in, I can’t answer that at this point, but we have guys that are ready to go. The scoring seemed to be fine for a long period of time and then we ran into that real bad drought in the last month. The games do tighten up at the end of the year. Obviously the playoff games were even tighter. There’s not a lot of room to move out there, so that’s part of it.
But we have guys that are capable of scoring that can probably score more. I mean, in Chris Kunitz alone, his goal production dropped off dramatically. I don’t think his play dropped off as much as his production. I just went through that with him. He can still contribute to this team. But when you break it down, (Jussi) Jokinen left, he had 20 goals. (James) Neal was gone for Hornqvist, they ended up scoring basically about the same this year. So that slack got picked up. But the league is changing. There’s a lot more parity and you’re playing a lot more low-scoring and tighter games.Guys always talk about the outside, trying not to hear stuff from the outside. During that last month when things weren’t going so well and you know how speculation is in the NHL – people start talking about how people might be fired – were you ever concerned for your job moving forward when that was going on?
No. First of all, I don’t read and unfortunately don’t listen to your show, I’m sorry to tell you. Even if it was baseball season, I don’t listen to talk shows. I was made aware of a couple of articles by my daughter, which disappointed me because I think they were out of line. But as for my own job, I have had 100 percent support from ownership from the day I got here even to 20 minutes after our final game.
But certainly if ownership feels that there’s a better way of doing things, I totally understand that. I’ve had a long career; it’s been a good career. I’m disappointed in what happened this year. But I think we had a pretty good team. If we had a healthy team, I would feel very comfortable with the moves that were made. The one move that I questioned and we questioned it at the time was trading a young defenseman for a veteran defenseman. But the reason we did that is we wanted a right-shot defenseman and a veteran defenseman at the time to take a long run. We weren’t healthy enough to do that. And the other part of it is we have a lot of other young defensemen. We can only put so many in the lineup. But no, I don’t see a whole lot or hear a whole lot. So fire away (laughs).Do you think you handled those articles well? Do you think you reacted to those articles well?
I feel that I was having a 1-on-1 conversation. I’ve had those before and that’s where they were left. If I were to do it over, I was told by the commissioner I probably shouldn’t do that. And told by my minister that I shouldn’t talk that way. So I probably won’t do it again (laughs).