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Pens’ Rutherford faces tough call

PITTSBURGH — The NHL trade deadline arrives tomorrow afternoon.

General manager Jim Rutherford has a troubled and inconsistent team, and no clear idea of what to do with it.

The salary cap makes it difficult to deal, and Rutherford has to wonder if there’s the kind of trade that can shake his team out of its win-a-few, lose-a-few tendencies. Although the Penguins are still likely to make the playoffs, they’re not guaranteed a spot.

The good thing about the Penguins’ goaltending is Matt Murray has two Stanley Cups on his resume. The bad thing is Murray has been inconsistent this season, he gets hurt a lot, and his backup is the inexperienced and quite average Casey DeSmith.

But would any of the available veterans be a clear upgrade and fit under the cap?

The Penguins always seem to be in the market for another winger who could score and/or be a physical presence. They’d like to have Carolina’s Michael Ferland, but so would a lot of other teams. Besides, the Hurricanes are still alive in the playoff race.

It appeared Rutherford successfully addressed that issue last season by acquiring Derick Brissard. Instead, Brissard was a complete flop in that role.

An extra defenseman seems like a good idea. Ben Lovejoy would have fit, but New Jersey traded him to Dallas.

There were even rumors the Penguins were considering re-acquiring forward Carl Hagelin. He went to Washington instead.

It isn’t so much whether Rutherford would like to make a deal as it is whether he can find one that makes sense.

New wave

The propeller heads are winning in baseball.

That was the unflattering nickname former Pirates general manager Ted Simmons gave to the new wave of statistical analysts who were infiltrating the front offices.

Eager and young and often non-athletic, Simmons perceived them as ambitious kids wearing beanies. They had never taken a foul tip off the mask; their biggest workplace injury risk was a paper cut.

They’re no longer an oddity. They’ve become the industry standard, to the point that MLB teams are cutting their scouting staffs and relying more on statistical analysis to evaluate players.

Traditionally teams have sent evaluation scouts on the road to file reports on every major league player they see. Now those scouts are being eliminated and the information is being gleaned from the spreadsheets compiled by the analysts.

No more plane tickets to purchase, no more bills at the Marriott, no more phony receipts for restaurant meals that were never served.

Once when Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was reviewing budgets, she complained about the amount allotted for scouts. “All they do is watch games,” she said. Now they don’t, at least not in some places.

Simmons was actually on board with the data collection. Cold hard facts trumped an old scout in a Cuban shirt spitting into his cup and offering his general manager the guarantee, “That (expletive) can flat-out hit.”

Neither method is foolproof. The Pirates had some solid statistical trends to suggest pitcher Jon Niese would be successful at PNC Park. He was awful.

Six other organizations took a chance on the athletically-gifted Chad Hermansen after the Pirates gave up on him. His career average was .195.

Now there’s a new way to do things, and teams are buying into it.

New headlines

It’s not that the Steelers wish any ill will on anyone.

It’s just that they’ll gladly surrender the daily spotlight their soap opera has drawn to Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots.

John Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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