PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is not happy with some of the treatment his captain and best player, Sidney Crosby, has been receiving this postseason.
The most notable example was probably the cross-check to the head he received from Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen in the second-round, forcing him to miss the remainder of that game as well as the next one. In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators, he was on the receiving end of some extra curricular activity, including this water bottle squirt from Mike Hoffman during the game.
In speaking to Ken Campbell of the Hockey News on Sunday, Rutherford sounded off and said that if the league does not take steps to protect its stars the league is headed back to where it was in the 1970s.
From The Hockey News:
“I hear year after year how the league and everyone loves how the Penguins play,” said Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. “ ‘They play pure hockey and they skate.’ Well, now it’s going to have to change and I feel bad about it, but it’s the only way we can do it. We’re going to have to get one or two guys…and some of these games that should be just good hockey games will turn into a sh—show. We’ll go right back to where we were in the ’70s and it’s really a shame.”
“The league has got to fix it,” Rutherford said. “In other leagues, they protect star players. In basketball, they don’t let their top players get abused. And in our league, well the thing I keep hearing is, ‘That’s hockey. That’s hockey,’ No, it’s not.”
On Monday, during his annual state of the league address before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Bettman was asked about the treatment of Crosby as well as Rutherford’s comments.
Bettman said even though he has tremendous respect for Rutherford he found the timing of the comments to be “odd.”
“In the last few hours I saw Mr. Rutherford’s comments, and on a both a personal and professional level I think the world of Jim Rutherford,” said Bettman.
“He has done a great job here, as he did in Carolina. The timing of what he said seems a little odd. That is something you do in a GM’s meeting, not the night before or day of the Stanley Cup Final.”
Specifically, Bettman seemed to write it all off as gamesmanship leading into the Stanley Cup Final.
“Maybe he is trying to tweak the officials a little bit, but in the final analysis, we don’t want our players getting hurt. I think it is fair to say all of the teams that have been in the playoffs have been very physical. There are a couple of people have complained from other teams about some of the things Pittsburgh players have done. Some of that goes in the category of gamesmanship. Some of that goes to the fact we need to be vigilant as a league to make sure players are not unnecessarily and inappropriately hurt. As I said that is something we continue to monitor and will. Having said that I take all of the concerns from all of our players, all of our clubs and all of our owners very seriously on this issue.”
Along with the concussion that Crosby received as a result of the Niskanen hit, he also had another hard fall into the boards later in that series and was then on the receiving end of some extra curricular activity from the Ottawa Senators late in the Eastern Conference Final.
The truly eye-opening thing about Rutherford’s commentary was the part where he said they might need to get “one or two guys,” seemingly referring to a desire to bring in some added muscle. Along with that sort of thing not really working as a deterrent, that would also run counter to the way Rutherford has built this Penguins roster over the past two years where they have been more focussed on speed and skill than size and toughness. Given that they are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row the approach seems to be working.