TAMPA, Fla. -- The NHL trade deadline is a little more than two weeks away, and while it's possible that it will pass without Jim Rutherford making a move or two, history tells us that it's not very likely.
Rutherford, after all, is constantly looking to upgrade his roster and usually does something at or around the deadline.
And yes, he has made some inquiries about guys on other teams in whom he and his staff are interested.
"I've had conversations about certain players," he said.
He declined to identify those players, of course, but the Penguins are in the market for a top-six winger who can make up for some of the goals lost when Jake Guentzel suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out until at least the second round of the playoffs, and possibly until next season.
It's likely that Rutherford be willing to look into the possibility of adding a little toughness to his lineup, too, provided the guy isn't a liability when he's on the ice.
There is, however, a major difference between this season and most of the past few: The word from inside the organization is that while Rutherford will be as aggressive as always when exploring potential moves, he doesn't feel the same urgency to act as he has in the past.
Indeed, if he could get some sort of guarantee that the Penguins wouldn't suffer another major injury this season, he would be quite content to let the Feb. 24 deadline come and go without doing anything, because he is that comfortable with the group that has been assembled and how it has performed this season.
Trouble is, no such guarantee is possible, of course, and the Penguins don't really have another top-six winger in reserve, so they would like to add one who can at least be an insurance policy.
While there has been a lot of speculation about specific players Rutherford might target, the reality is that he still doesn't know exactly who will be on the market, because some teams still don't know whether they should be buyers or sellers as the deadline approaches.
That decision will be influenced, in large part, by how they fare on the ice over the next couple of weeks.
"You see some teams that are kind of on the bubble and now they're winning a few games in a row, so it's a tough call about where it's going to be a few weeks from now," Rutherford said. "It could end up that there are a lot more players come into the market, or it could end up that there are too many teams that are too tight and end up keeping their players."
To his point, he said, there hasn't been a significant spike in conversations between GMs -- "It's pretty standard, same as it's been for the past month," Rutherford said. "Not a lot has changed." -- but he will have his shopping list ready when it's time for talks to pick up.
That's because it never goes away.
"We always have it set, even when there's not a trade deadline," he said. "We always talk about what our needs are and who would be a good fit and things like that. It doesn't matter what time of year it is."
• The Penguins have been in Florida since Monday, and while Tampa Bay and Florida are formidable opponents, the Penguins also have had to contend with another challenge since they arrived: The weather. Not just the sunshine (perhaps we'll explain what that is to Western Pennsylvania subscribers in a future story), but temperatures that routinely have crested in the 70s and 80s. Hardly traditional hockey weather, and Jared McCann, who spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers, knows how the conditions can affect teams passing through the state in mid-winter. "It definitely was an advantage, having people come in with that mindset (of enjoying the warmth)," he said. McCann said he doesn't necessarily take advantage of the opportunity to thaw out when the Penguins go south -- "I'm not really a guy who looks to sit outside. ... You can tell, I'm pretty pasty." -- but some of his teammates made the most of their full day off Tuesday. One group rented scooters and checked out downtown Tampa. Matt Murray and some others visited Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary. Bryan Rust settled for "a couple of walks out in the sun. Nothing crazy. No going to the beach or fishing or anything like that." They clearly have enjoyed the weather, but all insist that it does not distract their focus from the challenges at hand. "When we come to the rink, it's business as usual," Justin Schultz said. -- Molinari
• There was a time when hockey players generally wore a number between 1 and 35, with precious few exceptions. Those days ended long ago, though, and just about any number below 100 is likely to turn up on a sweater somewhere. Usually, players get an unusual one because they specifically request it: Sidney Crosby wears 87 because it reflects his birthdate of Aug. 7, 1987 (8/7/87). Evgeni Malkin goes with 71 in tribute to Valeri Kharlamov, the Hockey Hall of Famer who was No. 17 with the Soviet Red Army club and Soviet national teams and is idolized by many Russian players. And there there is Zach Aston-Reese, who sports an unusual number of his own, but he isn't No. 46 because of superstition or because he's trying to honor, say, Viktor Ignatjev or Joe Vitale. (Or even Warren Bankston, for that matter.) No, Aston-Reese ended up with 46 because, well, he was assigned it while playing for the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre. "I didn't even get to pick," he said. "It was just kind of given to me when I got to Wilkes, and I just kept it." Aston-Reese added that he wanted No. 12, which he wore at Northeastern, "pretty bad," but was denied it by a bizarre sequence of events. Goalie Michael Leighton, who was acquired from Arizona, wanted No. 49, which Dominik Simon had at the time. Surrendering that to Leighton forced Simon to pick a new number, and he opted for 12. Which is how Aston-Reese ultimately ended up as an heir to the numerical legacy of Jeff Toms and Pavel Skrbek. -- Molinari
• The Pirates officially acquired two prospects in the Starling Marte trade from the Diamondbacks, but there actually was a third, in a way. I'm told from inside the team that, if not for the $250,000 in international bonus cap space they acquired in that same transaction, they wouldn't have been able to pay the $594,000 signing bonus for 16-year-old Australian outfielder Solomon Maguire that followed. That's why Ben Cherington insisted on that component in the deal and, as I was further told, the deal would've been complicated or even killed without it. So, in any future references to this trade, I'll be making mention of the return as being for three prospects. -- Dejan Kovacevic in Tampa, Fla.
• To clarify this, hopefully, once and for all: The Pirates' trade of Corey Dickerson to the Phillies late last summer originally was for $250,000 in international bonus cap space, as well as a player to be named later to be culled from a list out of Philadelphia's system. When Neal Huntington decided he didn't want anyone off that list, he chose a cash payment from the Phillies, which is a common outcome in these scenarios. I haven't been able to nail down the cash specifically, but I'm told it was less than $50,000. -- DK
• Cherington came to Pittsburgh with a reputation as a good analytical general manager, and Wednesday's player development assignments reflect that. The Pirates analytics staff has grown by 33% this offseason — from nine full-time employees in 2019 to 12 for 2020 — and there is a stronger focus on them working in player development and scouting, including professional, amateur and international. There are also more hires coming to the farm system, namely people who will do video work with players and record results on Rapsodo, which can measure spin rate, giving players in the lower levels of the minors a better understanding of how to use the tools major-leaguers use. -- Alex Stumpf
• Ben Roethlisberger had a meeting with the Steelers' medical staff this week to begin preparations to start ramping up his rehab process once he returns from a check up with the surgeon who repaired his elbow injury in California. That appointment is expected to take place in two weeks. Roethlisberger is expected to be cleared to resume throwing, small things at first, to begin building up his arm strength. As someone who is going through a rehab process -- on my right, throwing shoulder -- I can tell you there are definite stages to this. Being that Roethlisberger is now nearly five months removed from his surgery, he's right on target. -- Dale Lolley at Rooney Complex
• While there was a push to not put in first-time eligible players in this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame vote, it will be tough to do in 2021. The list of first-time eligible players will include Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Jared Allen, all of whom will get strong consideration, and Calvin Johnson, as well. But don't be surprised if only one or two of those guys make it on the first ballot. Johnson will get some pushback because his career was so short, for example. There is a real push among voters to take care of some of the players who have been waiting longer. Alan Faneca tops that list. Don't believe me? Here it is from fellow voter Clark Judge on the Talk of Fame Network. -- Lolley
• Speaking of first-time eligible guys, Heath Miller will be eligible for the first time in 2021. And, as you can see, it will be tough for him to crack the list of finalists. Miller is ninth on the all-time list among tight ends with 592 receptions and was a member of two Super Bowl teams and another that went to the Super Bowl, but he probably won't make it past the semifinalist list. James Harrison will be eligible for the first time in 2023, when the top guy figures to be Darrelle Revis. But the guess here is once Faneca makes it -- and he will -- there won't be another Steelers player elected until Ben Roethlisberger. -- Lolley
• Ryan Murphy's missed two games with a concussion and was re-evaluated on Thursday to determine his status for Saturday's game against Georgia Tech. The time off hasn't been easy for him, as his team went 1-1 and sorely missed his outside shooting in each contest. "I just miss playing the most right now," Murphy was telling me. "That’s all I can think about ... [It's] kinda scary though, not gonna lie, to feel like I was the last couple days. [I'm] just happy and blessed to be recovering ... It’s the brain, so it’s not like I can tape it up and just go play, which is the frustrating part." Murphy's 35.5 percent shooting from three just trails Xavier Johnson's 35.8 percent clip for the team lead, and he does boast a team-best 83.3 percent from the free-throw line. He is one of four Panthers (Trey McGowens, Johnson and Justin Champagnie are the others) averaging double-digit scoring on the season.
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