Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford Openly Questions Mike Johnston


Last night Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford gave an exclusive interview to Josh Yohe of dkpittsburghsports.com. He was quite candid on his thoughts about the state of the Penguins and some of Mike Johnston’s lineup decisions.

In the interview he mentioned, among other things, that he had been requesting Head Coach Mike Johnston put rookie Daniel Sprong in the lineup. Sprong has not played since the November 17th game against the Minnesota Wild.

“I have been urging the coach to get him in there,” Rutherford told Yohe. “We need him in there so we can get a better look at him.”

“I have been urging the coach to get him in there. We need him in there so we can get a better look at him.” – Jim Rutherford

The move to put Sprong in the lineup has been called for by many who follow and cover the Penguins. It seems like a no-brainer with the offense stagnating at an alarming rate and the best player in the world struggling in this year’s version of Mike Johnston’s offense.

That Rutherford is putting a high ranking voice behind the cause is somewhat appeasing to the growing clamor for change. It is also quite alarming.

Going to the media over personnel issues is a strange avenue for an NHL general manager to take, though Jim Rutherford is a man known to be very forthright in his opinion. The typical front office path involves keeping these disputes in house to work them out behind closed doors. As the season continues to spiral into mediocrity, however, fan disgust and media pressure has grown exponentially.

Is this sudden outburst by Rutherford a sign that he’s feeling the pressure? Is it an attempt to deflect the blame onto Johnston’s deserving shoulders?

At the very least there seems to be a growing disconnect between how Rutherford views the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Mike Johnston is controlling the lineup and game time decisions.

More from Penguins News

Sidney Crosby has managed only 18 points in 26 games and sits at minus-9 on the season. Rob Scuderi is continually trotted out in positions that are often beyond his current abilities. Phil Kessel has been unable to produce as expected due in part to the offensive woes.

The offense is anemic and occurs in fits and starts. With two of the best players of this generation anchoring the top two lines the Pittsburgh Penguins have managed just 60 goals on the season. That total is good for 26th in the league. The mishmash on defense making up the Pens blueline is not much more appealing.

Mike Johnston looks like a man who is in over his head.

Aside from Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, there haven’t been many bright spots for the Penguins in 2015-16.

Going into the season, however, Daniel Sprong was a shining beacon for Jim Rutherford and Pittsburgh Penguins fans. He had a chance to be something different.

Rutherford traded up in the second round to get the Netherlands native. He made the team out of training camp and looked like he was ready to contribute right away.

And then he sat.

It is no surprise the GM wants Sprong in the lineup. With the offense sputtering his reasoning makes sense. Despite that reasoning, Jim Rutherford has now publicly called out his head coach.

What will Mike Johnston’s reaction be?

Does he play Sprong and risk looking like a fool as Sprong contributes and helps spark some offense? Does he continue to sit Daniel Sprong and risk losing his job anyway?

Next: Why Were The Penguins Outplayed So Badly In Los Angeles?

There’s no real winning decision here for the head coach. He loses either way.

Jim Rutherford loses too. The general manager loses badly if Daniel Sprong is a liability or cannot produce. Regardless of the outcome of Sprong’s impact on the lineup, it seems Rutherford will end up firing his head coach.

When he does and subsequently goes to hire Johnston’s replacement, this exchange will be playing in the back of any candidate’s mind.