He knows that it takes 16 victories to win a Stanley Cup.
He also realizes that the Penguins came up precisely 16 victories short of a championship in 2018-19.
Even so, after witnessing a postseason during which high seeds and top contenders vanished faster than props in a David Copperfield magic show, Rutherford is to be forgiven for believing that his team had – and squandered – a stellar opportunity to claim the franchise’s sixth title.
“We can say what some other teams are saying now,” Rutherford said over weekend in his PPG Paints Arena office. “We had a good enough team to win this year, but the pieces didn’t fall into place at the right time. We had the pieces it would take, but we didn’t have that will and desire and belief that we could do it.”
That’s why finding a way to rekindle the competitive fires that fueled the Penguins’ back-to-back Cup runs a few years ago is high on Rutherford’s to-do list this summer.
“I don’t think we had a team (in 2018-19),” he said. “We had a lot of good players, (but) the team never seemed to come together. That’s something we have to work harder on, as far as the chemistry of the team. The coach and the (GM) have to work harder on it, and the players have to work harder on it.
“I believe the locker room has lost its way. (Sidney Crosby) does all he can do, as the captain, but you can’t expect him to do the day-to-day stuff. He’s got enough to do, being the top player on the team. We need more guys to get involved in that (leadership).
"Part of the reason we lost our way was because we just got content with our success and, because of cap reasons, we had to move some key guys who were great locker-room guys. (Nick) Bonino was a good example of that. Trevor Daley. (Chris) Kunitz. Nobody’s really jumped in and filled those roles.”
The GM and coach charged with restoring that competitive edge are in place; whether the players who can make it happen are on the payroll now is unclear.
“It’s hard to say,” Rutherford said. “I think we have some guys here who can take that (leadership) role who have been a little bit nervous to step forward. It’s not an easy team or an easy room to be in. You’ve seen that over the years with the Penguins. Long before I got here, you’d bring some guys in and it’s hard for them. I see that. I see why. So possibly, we could have guys (who can handle those duties), but they have to get pushed to do it.”