The natives are restless.
In the last three years, Penguins fans have seen their team go from the Eastern Conference Final in 2013, to a second-round loss to the Rangers 2014 and then a first-round loss after barely qualifying for the postseason this year.
The blame game has run amok. From Mike Johnston’s facial expressions to the team’s recently hired medical staff to the allegedly cursed Consol Energy Center, no one has escaped the wrath of a fan base that expected nothing short of Stanley Cup.
The man most responsible for the team’s failures – and the man whose job it is to correct them – is general manager Jim Rutherford.
And he knows it.
“We fell short of our goal,” he said in his introductory remarks in his end-of-season press conference on Tuesday. “We fell short of our expectations and obviously, that’s very disappointing for us all.”
When Rutherford took over the Penguins in the summer of 2014, they had many problems, to be sure.
The team didn’t have enough good top-six wingers, they didn’t have enough forward depth, especially in the bottom six, they had precious little cap space, had traded far too many of their draft picks and had few players in the pipeline ready to step into an NHL role and they had too many aging players on big contracts.
In the summer of 2015, most of that is still true.
Rob Scuderi, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, all of whom will be 36 when the 2015-16 season begins, are scheduled to make nearly $11 million next year.
In the course of his first season, Rutherford traded three of the team’s draft picks, a first for David Perron, and a fourth and a 2016 second for Daniel Winnik.
The cap space, well it’s pretty well known how that played out. The Penguins finished the regular season with so little cap space that they frequently played with five defensemen.
The top six has three or four players that look like they belong there: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, for sure, and possibly Perron, if he’s the player that scored nine points in his first 10 games with the Penguins and not the one that had two points over his final 15 games.
Most of the bottom six players that were brought in provided very little. Nick Spaling, Max Lapierre and Winnik combined to score just 11 goals. Holdovers Craig Adams, Zack Sill and Marcel Goc added just three more.
Steve Downie ended up ninth on the team in scoring with 28 points, which is respectable for a third-line winger, but his 14 goals and 14 assists came with 238 penalty minutes, the most in the NHL by a 47-minute margin.
“This team wasn’t a real disciplined team at times,” Rutherford admitted. “Whether it was taking penalties at the wrong time or too many penalties in a game or talking back to officials … that’s something that we have to be much, much better at next year.”
Of Rutherford’s other additions, Christian Ehrhoff spent most of the season injured and when he did play, he wasn’t as nearly as effective as Rutherford had hoped when he gave Ehrhoff $4 million this offseason.
Blake Comeau and Ian Cole were pleasant surprises, and Ben Lovejoy’s poor postseason should come with the asterisk that he was playing far more minutes that he should have been.
Still, on the whole, it was an uninspiring first season for the Penguins general manager, who intimated that he might not keep the job for very long in his introductory press conference a year ago, but joked on Tuesday that he would be around for another 12 years. If the next few go anything like the first one, he certainly won’t be given that opportunity.
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