In a lengthy Q&A with the Sporting News — which I implore you to read — Penguins GM Jim Rutherford confirmed that, even when his club was struggling and he was forced to fire his head coach, his confidence in making the postseason never wavered.
“I didn’t doubt it,” Rutherford explained. “The thing that people don’t see is the character and leadership in our room. We have some really, really good character in that room.
“It was obvious that we needed to make some changes to be better, but I didn’t doubt that we would be in.”
OK, so Rutherford didn’t have any doubt.
The same can’t be said for everybody else.
On December 13, Mike Johnston was fired with the club sitting on the fringe of the playoff chase, boasting a slightly-above-average record (15-10-3).
Following the firing, Pittsburgh proceeded to lose four straight under new head coach Mike Sullivan, and there were concerns the club might miss the postseason for the first time in 10 years.
But in the end, they qualified. And the GM had a bit role in that.
Rutherford didn’t limit his tinkering to behind the bench. He orchestrated a number of important trades — getting Trevor Daley in exchange for Rob Scuderi, acquiring Carl Hagelin for David Perron and Adam Clendening — and made a fairly shrewd move by getting beleaguered d-man Justin Schultz out of Edmonton at the deadline.
While Schultz has been playing something of a sheltered role in Pittsburgh — he’s averaging just over 14 minutes a night — he’s racked up eight points in 18 games and, somewhat amazingly, has a plus-7 rating, not bad for a guy that went minus-78 over four years with the Oilers.
(Yeah, yeah, I know about plus-minus.)
To hear Rutherford explain it, the changes made allowed Pittsburgh to play a faster, speedier game.
But there was also another factor in the club’s resurgence: Sidney Crosby, who began racking up the points once the calendar turned to 2016.
While some outside pundits saw this as the Pittsburgh captain “flipping the switch,” Rutherford saw it differently.
“Sid’s production and leadership,” Rutherford said, when asked to identify what got the Pens back on track. “I’m sure you’ve seen where I’ve said this before, I think that Sid played well all year, but in the early part, he didn’t have the production.
“But neither did anyone else.”