Everyone is anxiously awaiting July 1, the opening of free agency, but Jim Rutherford has already turned some heads here in the final weeks of June. With all he’s done and is expected to do, it is clear that a Stanley Cup in 2019 is the endgame.
The Penguins signed Bryan Rust to a brand-new, four-year contract averaging $3.5M a season. Rust has taken on a larger role every year in Pittsburgh, and it is clear that the front office believes he can continue to do that through 2022. In 2018, Rust set a career high in assists with 29, and total points with 38. A “homegrown” talent, Rust is proof that the Penguin’s development system is alive and well. Drafted by the Penguins in the third round of the 2010 NHL draft, he crafted his game in college as well as Wilkes-Barre before bursting into the NHL in 2014-15, snagging a nightly roster spot the following season.
Rust’s re-signing shows both trust and high expectations. Both are huge positives moving forward.
Sheahan Sticks Around (For Now)
Riley Sheahan also re-signed with the Penguins in the past few days; a one-year deal worth $2.1M. This is a smart move for both parties. After a period of adjustment to Penguin hockey, Sheahan proved to be a nice fit to the lower 2 lines. Sheahan led the Penguins crew of centers in faceoff percentage at 54.4% in 2017-18. He totaled 32 points, a 19-point improvement from his prior season with the Red Wings.
Sheary and Hunwick Leave Cap Room Behind
GM Jim Rutherford sent Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick to Buffalo for a conditional fourth-round pick in next year’s draft. While Rutherford may have been able to get more for what he gave up, the focal point is in the financial realm. This move allowed the Penguins an additional $5M in cap space this summer, bringing their total to about $10M. Hunwick didn’t have the greatest impact in the lineup this season. As for Sheary, his game may have actually taken a step back in 2018. In 2017, he accumulated 23 goals and 30 assists for a whopping 53 points in 61 games. This past season, Sheary was only able to gather 30 points. That is not an egregious number for a player in his third year of NHL play, but the fact that it is over 20 points fewer than the previous year is concerning. Regardless, Sheary will make Buffalo a much better team. He is the type of player that can play on any line and have an impact.
The front office has been open in their intent to sign a defenseman. Jack Johnson’s name has been bounced around a great deal since this trade was finalized less than 24 hours ago. He would certainly be affordable, and a solid acquisition. Johnson may not be the top pair defenseman he was in Los Angeles, but that isn’t what Pittsburgh is looking for. Johnson would fill a role somewhere between those of Trevor Daley and Ian Cole. He won’t see quite as much ice time as Daley did, but his skill set isn’t too far beneath Daley’s.
Whatever Jim Rutherford is planning on doing next week, it’s clear that these moves have been in the making for months now. His crystal ball must work overtime.