The Penguins had shopped Kessel, who has a partial no-trade clause in his contract, the last two off-seasons but now are unlikely to trade the veteran forward, according to The Athletic. Rutherford told reporters Tuesday that he expects him to remain with the franchise for another season.
"I think that's the way things are headed at this point in time," Rutherford said. "I expect Kessel will probably play for Pittsburgh next season."
Kessel, 31, had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 82 regular-season games this season. He had a career-high 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists) in 82 games last season.
"First of all, he's a good player," Rutherford said. "He's been a good player for us. It's not as if we have to trade him. You have to understand that he has a [partial] no-trade clause and a lot of leverage. In situations like this, it usually doesn't work out so well for the team. That's just the way it is. So at this point, it looks to me that he will return. That's how I'm proceeding moving forward."
Kessel has been traded twice in his NHL career. The Boston Bruins, who drafted him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, traded the forward to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sept. 18, 2009. Later on, the Leafs sent him to the Penguins during the 2015 off-season.
Rutherford also expects the 32-year-old Malkin to remain in Pittsburgh despite his lowest goal output in close to seven years. He recorded 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 68 games this season, with his 21 scores being the lowest since he had nine in 31 games during the 2012-13 campaign.
"I believe in Geno Malkin," Rutherford said. "He came off a year that wasn't up to his standard last year. We all know that. But he's a great, great player. I know how good he is, and I know very well what he can do for this team."
Despite the team's intent to keep its veteran forwards, Rutherford added that the Penguins will have to move players to clear up cap space. The general manager said Pittsburgh may not be big spenders in free agency due to the team's available finances, but there is the possibility of a trade before the 2019 NHL Draft on June 21-22.
"We've got to be careful," Rutherford said. "It might feel good at first to make a big signing on July 1, but we've got young guys like [defenseman Marcus] Pettersson and [center] Jared McCann who will need raises soon, too. We can't forget about that. So we will see."
Pittsburgh finished with a 44-26-12 record this season. The New York Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.