PHILADELPHIA – Jim Rutherford is seemingly busy.
Buzz on Day 1 of the NHL Entry Draft had Rutherford taking calls – taking more often than making – from fellow GMs looking to see which Penguins’ players are available in a trade.
The name Rutherford has discussed most often: James Neal.
Rutherford is not looking to move Neal, but from the day he took over the Penguins he has fielded calls from teams looking to acquire the former 40-goal winger. Neal, 26, has four years remaining on a cap-friendly contract that has an annual $5 million hit.
Of course, at that price, it is going to cost a team to get Neal.
Though Rutherford said he is open to making a trade that includes a player on his roster to open some salary-cap space for the strapped Penguins, it is believed he will only move Neal if the return is an NHL player or players that could fill immediate holes.
Keep in mind, too – Neal leaving would create an immediate hole on the second line, which already will be without Jussi Jokinen, who Rutherford said the Penguins are unlikely to prevent from hitting free agency on July 1.
Those with ties to center Evgeni Malkin are closely watching the Penguins right now. Moving Neal could leave him without a winger, and word is Malkin would not be happy to face breaking in two new wingers next season.
>> Cap space is almost as important to Rutherford as a player or players in terms of an asset received in any trade. Though the Penguins are not shopping defenseman Kris Letang, that has not stopped Rutherford from listening to offers. However, it is said that Rutherford is leaning heavily to keeping Letang – unless a move would include a package that allow the Penguins to free cap space to address needs elsewhere.
>> Another name Rutherford is said to be taking calls on is Paul Martin, who is set to enter the final year of his current contract. Martin has given the Penguins no indication he is ready to sign an extension this summer.
>> Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is not said to be on the trade block. He would like to work out an extension this summer, though Rutherford has not decided if that will be among his priorities.
>> New coach Mike Johnston is said to favor adding Travis Green, his former assistant coach with Portland in the WHL, to a Penguins staff that includes Rick Tocchet.
More later. Be EXCELLENT to each other,