Two of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best players this past season are unrestricted free agents this summer, and general manager Jim Rutherford doesn’t anticipate them returning to the black and gold.
According to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Rutherford reportedly expects forward Jussi Jokinen and defenseman Matt Niskanen to pot large contracts from another team, and not return to the ‘Burgh.
Here’s what he said – per Yohe:
“I’ve talked with them. I think both players would like to return. But they’re also coming off good years. It’s time for them to hit free agency and get their big contracts. With that being said, we’ll see what happens leading up to free agency.”
Rutherford’s problem right now is that he doesn’t have a head coach, and Niskanen in particular is keeping a keen eye on that situation, because it’ll have an affect on if he’ll want to be in a Pens’ sweater next season – per Yohe.
Rutherford continues to assure fans he’ll have a coach in place by Jul. 1, but as the days go by and the draft getting closer, it almost feels as though Jul. 1 is exactly the date in which the Pens will have a new mentor.
Jokinen and Niskanen were intricate players for Pittsburgh’s 2013-14 campaign, and were one of the more reliable players at their positions the Pens’ possessed. However, Rutherford is right. The odds Pittsburgh is able to retain both Jokinen and Niskanen are slim, considering teams will be lining up to overpay them.
Yohe also reported that Rutherford is willing to deal the team’s first-round draft selection in order to acquire a player that will imminently help their Cup hopes.
The draft is Jun. 26, and the first day of free agency is Jul. 1.