May 13, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jussi Jokinen (36) and center Evgeni Malkin (71) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) celebrate a goal by Jokinen against the New York Rangers during the second period in game seven of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins sticking to short term deals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t losers in free agency per se, but the team appears to be about as good as they were before July 1. If you consider Matt Niskanen and Christian Ehrhoff to be a wash and players like Joe Vitale, Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass to be expendable, then the team isn’t really much better or worse than they were when they blew a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. If that worries you, Penguins fans, take a deep breath. It’s all part of the plan.

Josh Yohe at Trib-Live Sports writes that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford prefers to only sign short-term deals with free agents right now in order to give the team added flexibility down the line.

Rutherford, who stated at his introductory press conference that he will only remain as Penguins’ GM for “two or three years,” could theoretically take an aggressive stance in free agency, potentially crippling the Penguins down the road for the sake of luring players to Pittsburgh with lucrative, lengthy contracts.

Instead, the Penguins — already being heavily reconstructed after another playoff flameout in May — could look dramatically different at this time next year and shouldn’t be financially disadvantaged even after Rutherford has departed.

We can call this the Anti-Dale Tallon approach to managing an NHL roster. Instead of throwing contracts for five, six, or even seven years in length, Rutherford is empowering his future successor to build this roster as they will. This much was evidenced when Rutherford let defenseman Matt Niskanen walk for a seven year deal in Washington.
Rutherford then turned around and gave Christian Ehrhoff a much more palatable 1 year deal for $4 million. Not only is Ehrhoff arguably an improvement over Niskanen, but the deal is virtually bulletproof from Pittsburgh’s vantage point. If it doesn’t work out, they can walk away after this upcoming season.
That appears to be the new, prudent approach in the ‘Burgh after many failed attempts to find the right winger or blue liner to add to the superstar-fueled offense of the Penguins. Time will tell if it works, but if it doesn’t, at least the team will have the cap space necessary to make moves down the road.
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