That’s a lot of changes in one day. Here is the least you need to know.
The biggest asset that Jim Rutherford brings to the table as general manager is stability. The team is in the midst of re-evaluating its entire hockey operations department. That’s a daunting task for a young and inexperienced GM, especially with the organization’s expectations being so high.
Rutherford, 65, comes to the Penguins with 20 years of general managerial experience – having held the position with the Hartford/Carolina organization the past two decades. Under his guidance, the Hurricanes went to two Stanley Cup Finals, winning it all in 2006. He also has worked with all the major players in the NHL and is widely respected throughout the league.
“(Rutherford) exemplifies class and dignity,” Penguins president/CEO David Morehouse said. “It became clear to ownership that Jim’s experience and reputation as a strong and steady leader made him the clear choice for what we have to accomplish. His vision for the Penguins in both the near future and moving forward was something that very much impressed us.”
2. Young staff
Rutherford mentored Ron Francis in Carolina to take over as the team’s general manager, which he did this past April. In Pittsburgh Rutherford will once again be working with a young and promising staff under him in Jason Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald.
“I know that I’m mentoring them. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but I would suspect that this term for me is probably two or three years here,” Rutherford said. “It’s going to be up to ownership who replaces me. I will get to know these guys better and would recommend what goes on in the future.”
Both Botterill, 38, and Fitzgerald, 45, interviewed for the Penguins GM job, and they will both have a lot of input on the decisions that Rutherford makes in the future.
“I’m looking forward to restructuring the organization,” Rutherford said. “(Botterill) will work very closely with me on all matters. His input will be taken very seriously.”
Bill Guerin will have a unique role as a liaison between the management side and the locker room.
“It wasn’t long ago since (Guerin) was a player. He understands what makes these players tick,” Rutherford said. “He’ll be my day-to-day guy that communicates with the players, around the players in the room to understand if there are issues or if things are going fine. Because if there are issues I’d like to get on top of it and deal with it directly myself.”
(More on the young staff coming soon...)
3. Coaching Situation
The Penguins brass and Rutherford decided to relieve Dan Bylsma of his duties as head coach.
“With the information I took from ownership, with the understanding of what has taken place here, we determined it was time to go in a different direction with the coach,” Rutherford said. “We met with Dan this morning and told him.”
Rutherford knows what he wants from the new head coach and has a few candidates in mind. He hopes to make a hire before the start of free agency – July 1st.
“I have a short list of coaches in mind,” Rutherford said. “The coach will have to adjust to the style of players that we have. With the teams we ultimately have to compete with, we’re going to have to have a coach that can make the proper adjustments during a game, during a period of time in the regular season or during a playoff series.”
However, the remaining assistant coaches – Tony Granato, Todd Reirden and Jacques Martin – have been retained. Rutherford and the team’s new head coach will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to keep them on staff for next season.
“I’ve given them permission to talk to other teams if they wish,” Rutherford said. “If they wish to not move on immediately until a head coach is announced, they’re more than welcome to do that. The head coach will make the decision of who his assistants are.”
4. Roster Evaluation
Rutherford will be in charge of overseeing the revamping of the Penguins’ roster. There will be several big decisions to make pertaining to pending unrestricted free agents and the composition of the lineup.
“I don’t think we have all the pieces here to get back to where the Penguins were in ’09, but with some changes, not sweeping changes, we can do this in the very near future,” Rutherford said. “Free agency this year might not be as exciting because we’re up against the cap. We’ll look at free agency as a way to make some changes on the team.”
(More on Rutherford’s vision coming soon...)
Rutherford may be 65 years old, but he’s a forward and progressive thinker. One way in which he will bring the Penguins into the new age is by adding a hockey analytics person. The Hurricanes utilized analytics and Rutherford feels it’s a valuable asset, though not the lone decider, in personnel decisions.
“I don’t think we’re up to speed here on the use of analytics,” Rutherford said. “The analytics, if used properly, are great to check everybody’s opinion. I’m not going to make my final decision, like they do in baseball, just based on analytics. I’ll make a gut decision on call-ups and trades.
“There are things that analytics will point out to you that your hockey people don’t see. I take those points, good or bad with a player, and I start questioning the hockey people. The analytics aren’t always right. We’re not always right. It’s just a great sounding board. I’ve used them for a few years now and I’ll tell you it makes a difference.”
6. Full Power with Open Communication
Rutherford made it clear that he is in complete control of all hockey operations decisions. But he did add that he would communicate openly with upper management on personnel decisions.
“I am very comfortable with my position and that I have complete control,” Rutherford said. “I am a guy that likes to communicate. I’ll have full communication with the executive committee, the board and (owners) Ron (Burkle) and Mario (Lemieux).”
7. Ownership Conflict
Rutherford is a part owner of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise, having purchased a portion of the team in the past. The NHL will review his dual position as Hurricanes owner and Penguins GM and decided whether or not he must relinquish his ownership stake.
“(Hurricanes owner/CEO) Pete Karmanos has an executive meeting with the league on Tuesday and he’ll get clarification on that,” Rutherford said. “I would suspect the league is going to say that you can’t do that. That’s fine with me. I’ll get my money back (laughs).”
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