When Jim Rutherford was hired earlier this month as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, following a 20-year stint in the same position with the Hurricanes/Whalers, he was asked why he thought his former franchise had not earned a playoff berth since 2009.

His answer: mostly injuries at the goaltender position.

In inheriting the roster, new general manager Ron Francis also inherits this franchise-defining question: What to do about goaltender Cam Ward?

Having hired Bill Peters as coach last week, Francis now faces his second major test as one of the NHL's busier times of the season in terms of player movement is set to begin. The draft, often a time for major trades, begins on Friday and the free agency period starts a week from Tuesday.

While Francis will have to make decisions about a number of free agents and negotiate contracts with others -- particularly unrestricted free agents like injured defenseman Joni Pitkanen, forward Manny Malhotra and goalie Justin Peters and restricted free-agent forwards like Jiri Tlusty and Nathan Gerbe -- what to do about Ward could dominate Francis' agenda.

The goalie who led the franchise to its only Stanley Cup in 2006, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, has two more seasons left on a contract that pays him $6.3 million per season. However, he in all likelihood enters as the backup and with a troubling recent injury history. Ward has played 47 games over the past two seasons, 27 contests less than he played in 2010-11 when he led the NHL in games in net and tied for third in wins.

Anton Khudobin, who also battled injuries last season but, at 28, is younger than the 30-year-old Ward and has far less mileage on him, ranked eighth in the NHL in save percentage (.926) last season among those who played more than 10 games. Meanwhile, Ward, at .898 in 30 games, finished 73rd among 97 goalies in that category last season.