Courtesy of Point Park University

Friday Insider: Rutherford eyeing two defensemen

TORONTO -- Jim Rutherford makes no secret of his desire to bolster the Penguins' lineup by adding a couple of quality defensemen.

He just doesn't know yet if he'll have to do it by working out a deal or two before the NHL trade deadline Monday at 3 p.m.

For the moment, though, he seems cautiously optimistic that the two guys he has targeted -- Brian Dumoulin and John Marino -- will be ready to contribute by the start of the NHL playoffs, if not sooner. Dumoulin has missed the past 32 games while recovering from severed tendons in his left ankle, while Marino hasn't played in six because of surgery to repair a fractured cheekbone.

"We're getting positive signs on Dumoulin and Marino, which is encouraging," Rutherford said. "But we'll wait until Saturday to make a call on that, as far as if (their projected returns are) not in a timely fashion, whether we need to add another defenseman."

Dumoulin had been working with Kris Letang on the No. 1 pairing when he was injured, while Marino had teamed up with Marcus Pettersson on the second pairing.

Although the Penguins currently have seven defensemen on their major-league roster, precedent suggests they'll need a few more if they go on a long playoff run.

"We have (Zach) Trotman up here now, who we're comfortable with," Rutherford said. "But it seems like you can never have enough defensemen going into the playoffs."

Rutherford made a major move to upgrade his top two lines when he acquired Jason Zucker from Minnesota Feb. 10, but appears to be in the market to add a veteran to his bottom-six before the deadline.

"We have a list of guys, certain guys we think may be able to fit in in different ways with us," he said. "More just to give us a little more experience and balance out the (forward lines)."

And while he seems receptive to the idea of adding some muscle to the roster, in part because some potential playoff opponents might try to pound the Penguins into submission, Rutherford made it clear he's not shopping for a player who can't do anything with his hands except to make a fist.

"We know that we're going to get into certain games or certain series where (physicality) will (be) a factor," he said. "We built our team differently. We built it through speed. When our power play is working, it can (deter) those teams that play more physical. You can hurt teams with your power play. If the right player came along who fits and can play and add the physical part, we would look at it. But there aren't a lot of guys out there. When we have our success, it's that we have four lines that are going and all four lines can play a decent amount of minutes. That's what we'd like to get to."

Rutherford's track record suggests he'll be able work out a trade or two before the deadline arrives but, if he can't, he insists he's confident the group that's already been assembled can be a force in the postseason.

"We have to get healthy," he said. "But if we don't do anything, we're ready to go down the stretch here."


• Zucker's formal ties to the Penguins stretch back less than two weeks, but it turns out that his first connection to someone associated with the franchise goes more than a decade into the past. When he was 14, one of the assistant coaches on Zucker's team in Las Vegas was Rod Buskas, the former Penguins defenseman. Zucker's interaction with him was somewhat limited because he is a forward and Buskas worked primarily with the defenseman, but Zucker still formed some enduring impressions of him. "I thought he was great," Zucker said. "He was very vocal. He wanted to teach. He was very strict and stern, which was a good thing for us at that age." -- Molinari

• The next major Canadian holiday is just a few days away. No, not Victoria Day (May 18 this year) or Canada Day (July 1). It's the aforementioned NHL Trade Deadline Day, which is not formally recognized as a holiday (yet), but is when much of the country obsesses over what NHL clubs to do adjust their rosters for the stretch drive and playoffs. Both of Canada's major English-language sports networks will begin nonstop coverage long before the first deal is announced, and continue it until long after the 3 p.m. deadline has passed. "It's a pretty exciting day for a lot of fans," said Justin Schultz, who broke into the NHL with Edmonton."Not for us, though." Schultz actually came to the Penguins in a Deadline Day deal four years ago, but lots of players who never get traded hear their names circulate in speculation as the deadline approaches. "If you're playing for a Canadian team, I feel like your name gets brought up," said Jared McCann, who entered the league with Vancouver. "Even if you're not on the trading block." -- Molinari

Mike Sullivan is widely regarded in these parts as a favorite to win the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the NHL's top coach. Understandably so, too, since he has guided the Penguins to a place near the top of the overall standings, despite the run of serious injuries to key players that his team has experienced. But Sullivan is not a lock to get the Adams, which is voted on by NHL broadcasters, and one of his chief competitors for it might be a close friend and division rival, John Tortorella. Even though his team in Columbus has had medical miseries rivaling those of the Penguins -- and is going through them in what was supposed to be a down year after the Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene to free agency last summer -- Tortorella has Columbus very much in contention for an Eastern Conference playoff berth. -- Molinari


The Steelers really liked the safety class of 2018, so much so that of the three veteran players they have at the position, all entered the NFL that season. Terrell Edmunds, their first-round draft pick of that season, has been in the team's starting lineup at strong safety. In 2019, they made a trade with Miami to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick, the 11th player selected in that draft, to be their starting free safety, giving them two starters from that 2018 draft. Marcus Allen, a fifth-round draft pick of the team in 2018, hopes to become the latest safety from the 2018 draft to make his mark on the team once the 2020 season rolls around. Allen has bounced back and forth between the team's practice squad and active roster in each of his first two seasons, but with free agency set to start March 18, his role could be increased significantly depending on what happens with the rest of the roster. Sean Davis, the team's former starting free safety before missing most of 2019 with a shoulder injury, and veteran backup Jordan Dangerfield are both set to become unrestricted free agents. Allen is itching to show he can be the team's top backup. The former Penn State star has stayed in Pittsburgh, working out daily at the Rooney Sports Complex in preparation. "I'm very comfortable," Allen told me last weekend of being able to play both strong and free safety. "I'm ready to go into OTAs and prove that I can do it." He's got plenty of motivation. Allen's father is a native of Homewood and though he grew up in Maryland, he was always a Steelers fan. "Every time the Steelers were on the board, my heart started beating really fast because I wanted to be a Steeler my whole life," he said of the draft in 2018. "I didn't care what round they took me in, first, fifth, sixth, seventh. I just wanted to be a Steeler." -- Dale Lolley at Rooney Complex 

• The Steelers coaching staff, scouts and medical team will report to Indianapolis Saturday for the NFL Scouting Combine that starts next week. It will be interesting to see which participants with which they choose to meet. The Steelers don't have a first-round pick and won't make their first selection until pick No. 49 and then won't make another until the compensatory picks are made at the end of the third round. Those compensatory selections are expected to be announced today. But that pick likely won't be until around selection 100. So do the Steelers talk only to later-round prospects, or do they still do their due diligence on first-round guys? As Kevin Colbert noted last week, there are likely 20 guys they can cross off their list immediately. They won't have a chance at them at 49. But, as we saw with Joe Haden's sudden availability before the 2017 season started, those top guys can hit the open market. And it's always good to have some background on the player. So don't be surprised if you hear about the Steelers meeting with some top guys next week. -- Lolley

• The Steelers are wrapping up their organizational meetings regarding free agency today, so you can expect some of the dominoes to start to fall soon. But Thursday's news that the owners had given the OK to a new CBA will affect how things move forward. Having a new CBA in place -- it will be voted on by the player reps before being sent out to the teams for final passage -- will affect how the Steelers manage their cap -- and how much the cap goes up. Most notably, if the new CBA is in place, the 30 percent rule will no longer be in effect, meaning a team such as the Steelers, which likes to turn base salary into signing bonus to create cap space, will be able to proceed with business as usual. The 30 percent rule would have prohibited the Steelers from converting more than 30 percent of a player's base into salary, which would handcuff them severely. If this deal is given the OK by the players, it could mean the Steelers will stick with tight end Vance McDonald, on whom they have a $5.5-million option for 2020. They can create cap space elsewhere and wouldn't need to release McDonald. -- Lolley


• The Pirates have been utilizing the pitch tracking tools Rapsodo and TrackMan more this spring than they have in the past, using it to monitor pitch design, spin, movement and tunneling, as well as the pitcher's deliveries. Asking around the room, it's interesting to see how each pitcher uses this information. Chad Kuhl and Nick Burdi pitched in front of a Rapsodo all winter to monitor their pitches and release as they came back from injuries. Clay Holmes uses it to track pitch design. Minor-leaguer Nick Mears, seeing this type of information for the first time, tried altering his mechanics when he noticed his breaking pitch wasn't tunneling with his fastball, but after talking to the pitching coaches, he decided to stop trying to fix what wasn't broken. Edgar Santana was sore after his first bullpen, and they were able to figure out he was not driving enough from his back leg, putting too much stress on his arm. The Pirates had most of this technology a year ago, but Ray Searage was not as good at using it as Oscar Marin. "The way he's (Marin) approaching it is strengths off of raw data and what the numbers say rather than the visual eye test. Like, [Searage would say] 'that was a really good pitch right?'" Geoff Hartlieb told me about how Marin's approach with this technology differs from Searage's. -- Alex Stumpf in Bradenton, Fla.

• After Joe Musgrove said last month the Pirates lacked leadership in 2019, Jarrod Dyson could be one of those leaders for the hitters. He has fit in perfectly with his new team's clubhouse, with players -- especially rookies --  gravitating to his corner locker. "He's just that guy you want to be around," Cole Tucker told me. -- Stumpf

• With Jacob Stallings all but officially the starter and Luke Maile and John Ryan Murphy the most likely backup options, Ben Cherington has assembled a catching core that emphasizes defense and pitch framing. However, there is a very real possibility the league will go to an automated strike zone within the next few years, thus nullifying the benefits of framing. While the Pirates also value intangibles from their catchers, like how they manage a staff and process information mid-game, if this rule change happens, it could alter how the team develops and values minor-league backstops. "We've got to be aware of that possibility and thinking about it (automated strike zone), but also not make assumptions that that's going to happen," Cherington was telling me. -- Stumpf

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