Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford spoke with Pittsburgh media this afternoon at Consol Energy Center. He discussed the blockbuster trade he made today involving right winger Phil Kessel, center prospect Tyler Biggs, defensive prospect Tim Erixon, and conditional draft picks in exchange for right winger prospect Kasperi Kapanen, center Nick Spaling, defensive prospect Scott Harrington, a 2016 third-round draft pick and other conditional draft picks.
Rutherford also touched base on Russian free agent forward Sergei Plotnikov signing with the team as well as a few other subjects.
"We acquired Kessel, Biggs and Erixon today. We also signed Plotinkov from Russia. … I'm very excited about what happened today. We worked on this signing for a month or over a month. It got a little bit of legs on draft day but it really heated up last night and we were able to complete the deal today. We set out this offseason to bring in more skill on the wing and some more speed. And we certainly covered that by adding Phil Kessel. We'd also like to add some consistency of wingers for [centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby]. I believe [head coach Mike Johnston] should be able to do that for now."
How key was it to not give up a defensive prospect like Derrick Pouliot or Olli Maatta?
"I get asked about them a lot. It's hard to find guys like Pouliot. He's a guy, as he matures, is going to be an important guy on our power play. He's a guy that we didn't want to let go."
Is there any concern over how Kessel would impact the chemistry of the room, dealing with the media or any other off-ice aspect which allegedly weren't ideal for him in Toronto?
"I don't have any concerns. Everybody gets a fresh start in a new place. You hear stories about different people in different situations. But I feel very comfortable with getting Phil. I've done a lot of homework on this and I've talked to a lot of people. I do believe a fresh start … getting out of Toronto where he went there under the microscope from day one. He was always the guy. He was the guy that was blamed when things weren't going well. He doesn't have to be the guy here. We have a bunch of them. I believe he's going to fit in very well here."
How do you see Kessel fitting on a line with centers Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?
"That's going to be up to [Johnston] and how that all fits at [training] camp. The one thing we know is we have Kessel and [right winger Patric] Hornqvist. We have two guys that the coach can figure out who goes with who and try to keep them with them on a regular basis instead of moving them around. [Crosby and Malkin] can get comfortable with their wingers. As far as looking at more top-six wingers, no. We feel Plotnikov can go in the top-six. We've got to get him over here and actually see him in our group. But he's a real good player. Whether he can play in our top-six or not, we'll find out. But he'll certainly be one of our forwards and believe can help our team."
On Biggs and Erixon:
"They're both first round picks. Biggs hasn't really got going as he should have since being a first-round pick since he turned pro. He's a big body and he has some things to offer if he can develop a little more. In Erixon's case, he's a first-round pick and he's a guy that can come in and make our team."
There have been suggestions Kessel isn't in good shape yet he has played every game since 2010-11.
"Maybe we're on to something. We'll just have to see. But if in fact, what you're saying is accurate, he's a pretty damn good player based on those circumstances and if he needs to get himself in a little better shape, he'll be even a better player. But being around our players and the kind of condition and and how hard they work will rub off on anybody. But I was partly kidding about [being] on to something. I do think guys that are in too good a shape are more vulnerable to getting hurt. And this is a guy that plays every game."
Is there any personal satisfaction that you could pull off this deal without trading Pouiot or Maatta?
"The personal satisfaction I feel is I believe we've improved our team. It's hard to score goals in this league. We play a lot of one-goal games and when you can get a pure goal scorer, that's going to give you a better chance to win games. You can never know with trades. It's over time is really how you judge trades. We got the best player in the trade right now. It usually works out for the team that gets the best player. We gave up Spaling off our team. That was a good, solid player for us but not at the level of Phil Kessel. And we gave up prospects. And you don't know how they're going to turn out. But to not take a lot of off our team and add Phil Kessel, at this point in time, that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction."
What does this trade mean for left winger Chris Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis who have been virtually entrenched on Crosby's line for the past five years?
"It means we're getting more balance and more depth in our forwards. And it means in or lineup, 1-through-12 in our forwards. We have a much better team. I will caution everybody as I cautioned Pascal, for all intents and purposes, he's missed two years and to expect him to jump right back in on the top line is asking a lot. If he works his way there over the first month or two of the season, that would be great. The good thing about him is he can play both wings. By adding another right winger, it doesn't affect him. In Chris Kunitz's case, it's going to depend on where he fits. Obviously, one of those two guys won't be on the top line."
Did Spaling have to be traded for financial reasons and was Kessel at the top of your list with regard to any other potential trades?
"In Spaling's case, he's a very useful player and I like him. It was to make the money work. I would have been happy to keep him. As far as players that were out there, we were in most deals. We're talking about different players. I'm sure you're referring to the last two deals that were made in the league, one in Buffalo [with center Ryan O'Reilly] and one in Columbus [involving left winger Brandon Saad]. But Kessel was our main target. When you look at his goal-scoring ability and his speed, that was really the ideal player we were looking for."
How involved were you in pursuing Saad?
"We're always poking around on all deals. So the answer is, yeah. We were poking around. We were in that deal. We like that player a lot. It turns out Chicago felt they got a better player than they got from us."
Kessel had a modified no-trade clause in his deal. Did you have to talk to him or his agent directly to agree to this trade?
"We were on his list [of teams he would accept a trade to] so we didn't have to get permission to [talk to him]. He's excited to come here."
(Photo: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)