Exclusive: What Rutherford will seek in free agency today ☕

The Penguins got more than Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph when they traded Phil Kessel to Arizona Saturday.

In the process, they picked up salary-cap space that will allow Jim Rutherford to be more than an interested onlooker when the NHL's free-agent signing period begins at noon Monday.

Oh, Rutherford won't be bidding for big-ticket guys like Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, but he will at least be able to make a legitimate attempt to plug what he views as a significant hole in his roster.

"I just know that we're in a position that we can be active, and we wouldn't have been, otherwise," he told Sunday. "We'll look for a forward. I'd like to get more balance throughout our forward lines, back to where we were in (2016) and (2017), where we're getting contributions from all lines. A guy we can put in there that we feel makes it harder for us to play against. That's another thing Mike Sullivan talks about: 'Let's be harder to play against, five-on-five.' We know what we're capable of doing on the power play and whatnot, but you play most of the game five-on-five, especially in the playoffs."

Predictably, he did not divulge who the Penguins plan to target, and it's conceivable that their list might still be tweaked a bit before the day is over.

"We have our final meeting tonight," Rutherford said. "We all get together and have dinner. We do it every year. We'll finalize exactly what we're doing and be ready to go at noon."

Precisely how much money Rutherford will have -- and, more important, will be willing -- to spend then isn't clear.

The Penguins are a little more than $5 million below the $81.5 salary-cap ceiling after the Kessel trade, but still have to re-sign restricted free agents Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger and Marcus Pettersson.

On the other hand, they already have eight defensemen under contract, so one or two of those guys presumably will be playing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or for another organization when the season begins, which will lower the payroll.

Paring a defenseman from the depth chart remains a priority -- Jack Johnson, who has four years remaining on a contract with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million, seems to be quite available -- but Rutherford said he won't complete any trades soon enough to have an impact on what the Penguins do in the early hours of free agency.

"Depending on what we do on Monday, there could be other options," he said. "Other changes after Monday, to change where we're at with our cap."

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