The GM did not name the team involved, but it had been widely reported that the Penguins had a deal on the table with the Minnesota Wild in which Kessel and Jack Johnson would go out for Jason Zucker and Victor Rask.
"In Phil's situation, he was just part of a decision ... where we were trying to retool and we had a chance to get a good player, but it doesn't necessarily mean he has to be traded," Rutherford told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. "He's been a really good player for us. We wouldn't have won the Cups without him. He's an impact player; he will be for a few more years. So we'll see how that plays out."
Kessel is coming off a season in which he had 27 goals and 82 points -- good numbers to be sure, but the 31-year-old has to shine on offense to overcome some of his defensive shortcomings. He had 34 goals and 92 points the year before.
After being swept by the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Penguins are looking to get younger and faster around star Sidney Crosby. They traded defenseman Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks for young forward Dominik Kahun this week.
Rutherford intimated that he had put together the trade without worrying that Minnesota was not on Kessel's list of approved destinations.
"The biggest thing from a team point of view, you can't have the player controlling the trade because if you do it's not going to work out for the team, so at this point and time I view it that Phil will return with the team," Rutherford said.
"I'm not actively pushing to trade him at this point. If someone comes along with a deal that makes sense, we'll take a look at it, just like most of the other players."
Rutherford didn't fault Kessel for exercising his contractual rights.
"Minnesota was never on his list. To that point, he's a player that deserved to get the position he's in where he had a no-trade and pick eight teams that he would go to and otherwise have some say in whether he'd go to other teams," Rutherford said. "I don't think there's anything out of the ordinary here. He's exercising his right. Obviously it's frustrating for the team when you feel that the trade we were going to make was the right thing for the Penguins, but Phil didn't do anything wrong."
"The guys that you mentioned are not guys I'm pushing to trade or feel that I have to trade from the Penguins. They've been great players, they still are and they're the kind of guys you win championships with," Rutherford told the radio station. "I didn't say I was going to actively push to trade the guys you just mentioned, but I didn't say that I wouldn't. The best example of all, people hear this over and over, Gretzky was traded, you know, one of the greatest players of all time. Sometimes there's certain packages [that] come along that you have to look at, and that's why I kept that door open."