Pittsburgh Penguins: A few thoughts on Jim Rutherford as Their New GM by @MadChad412 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins: A few thoughts on Jim Rutherford as Their New GM by @MadChad412

Well at least the search for a new general manager is finally over. After three weeks of hearing (And fearing) that Pierre McGuire was the front-runner to replace Ray Shero as Pittsburgh Penguins' GM. As it turns out, the Penguins went in an entirely different direction, hiring former Carolina Hurricanes' GM, Jim Rutherord. Rutherford, who is 65 years old, spent the last 20 seasons in the NHL as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers. The Rutherford signing was really out of nowhere and certainly not what I expected after the firing of Ray Shero. 

Now that a few days have gone by, and I've had time to digest the decision I was able fully to analyze the signing. Obviously we will not be able to know if this is a good signing or not until we see exactly what Rutherford does as Pens' gm, but if we look at it as simply Ray Shero vs. Jim Rutherford, this decision really doesn't come off as a smart move in the hockey world. 

Shero was not perfect as Penguins' GM. In fact, his drafting was rather poor and so was the Penguins' player development under Shero. However has drafting and player development been that much better in Carolina under Rutherord during the same time span? The answer is no. In fact, since 2000, Rutherford only eight players that played 200-or more games in the NHL. To top that, only three of those players were taken out of the top 11 picks in the NHL draft. People like to point out that Rutherford did not have the money to work with while he was in Carolina, but drafting and player development is the key to success in today's NHL, as well as an excellent way to combat spending big money, and Rutherford has failed for the most part at that aspect during his tenure in Carolina. 

Making this signing even stranger is the fact that Rutherford has admitted that he is in Pittsburgh as a stopgap. Rutherford said that he only has two or three years left to live..I mean be GM of the Penguins before a younger successor (Most likely Jason Botteril) replaces him. Botterill, who would have been a much better choice over Rutherford, has spent the last seven years in charge of the Penguins’ cap as well as the last five seasons as Shero's assistant general manager. Despite that, the Penguins are saying that they do not feel that Botterill is quite ready to be "The guy" in Pittsburgh quite yet, and they are bringing in grandpa Rutherford to be his teacher/mentor for two-or-three seasons. That is extremely weird to me. Is Botterill really ok with that? And if so, what's to say that another team does not try to hire Botterill away from the Penguins while Rutherford is at the helm? Rutherford actually suggested that the Penguins have various younger guys that could be general managers in Pittsburgh, most likely referring to his other assistants Bill Guerin and Tom FitzGerald. After hearing that, I am guessing that Shero was not good at or was not willing to groom those guys like the older Rutherford. I am also guessing that the Penguins wanted to bring in a face from outside of the organization to find a replacement for Dan Bylsma, as well as look at some of the big contracts that the Pens have tied up in Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, and Kris Letang. 

A few things that Rutherford has said that I did like: 

  • Implementing the use of hockey analytics in Pittsburgh. Apparently the Penguins haven't been using the new wave of hockey analytics under Bylsma/Shero as much as they should be. I haven't seen much evidence of Rutherford using them in Carolina, but if he is going to use them more here in Pittsburgh I am all for that. Reports are that Rutherford will hire a hockey analytics specialist. Maybe now the Penguins could move on from using less-skilled "Try hard" players on their third and fourth lines. Looking at you Craig Adams and Tanner Glass. 

  • His thoughts on Bylsma as a coach. Rutherford came in and did the dirty work for Mario Lemieux and company by firing Dan Bylsma as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rutherford has said that he wants to bring in a coach that can make the necessary adjustments during games, which is obviously a huge shot at Bylsma. (Side note: Head coaches for the Hurricanes under Rutherford were Paul Maurice, Peter Laviolette, and Kirk Muller.) The decision to hire the next Pens' head coach is one thing that I do trust Rutherford with. 

  • Rutherford also mentioned that he knows the Penguins need a better supporting cast. Duh. Rutherford criticized the Penguins lack of support for their stars, which is what this franchise needed to hear. When you look at the teams that made it farther than the Penguins this postseason, their supporting casts for their top players are night-and-day better than what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have. That is encouraging to hear, but now we have to see Rutherford make it happen. 

When it comes to trading, Rutheford isn't a huge downgrade from Shero, which is odd to say considering that Shero really got the best of Rutherford in two recent trades. Trading Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and the eight overall pick in the draft for Jordan Staal was an atrocious move by Rutherford. Trading Jussi Jokinen to the Pens (While retaining part of his salary as well) for a conditional pick was also a huge fail in my eyes. Other than those two trades though, Rutherford's trading history is pretty damn good. He traded Keith Primeau for Rod Brind'Amour; Sandis Ozolinsh to Florida for Bret Hedican and Kevyn Adams, and got Doug Weight the year Carolina won the Stanley Cup for virtually nothing. Rutherford knows talent and with Botterill controlling the salary cap, I don't think there will be a big drop off from Shero to Rutherford when it comes to the trading world. 

In the end, I still think this was one of the oddest off-seasons a Pittsburgh team has ever gone through. The Penguins wanted change, and change they are certainly getting bringing in a new coach and general manager. I am still not sure if Rutherford is a good enough gm for the Penguins to improve enough to win a Stanley Cup. Sure, Rutherford has won a Stanley Cup as a general manager, and went to another Stanley Cup final as well, but teams under his management missed the playoffs more often than not, missing the playoffs 14 out of the last 19 seasons. Rutherford has also completely mangled the salary cap in Carolina recently, giving outrageously overpriced contracts to Jordan Staal (Making $6 million through 2022) Eric Staal (Making $8.2 million next two seasons) Cam Ward (Making $6.3 million the next seasons) and lastly the awful contract given to Alexander Semin (Making $7 million the next four seasons). So basically Rutherford has gone from a team where he ruined their salary cap situation to a team that is also very tight under the cap but will be able to spend a little more money. I agreed that the Penguins needed to make changes in the front-office, and changes they have sure made, but I am not very confident that Rutherford can right this ship enough to make this team from a pretender to a serious contender. For the first time in my life I am seriously questioning the decision of Mario Lemieux, especially ever since he and Ron Burkle gave David Morehouse the power behind the hockey decisions of this franchise. I am hoping I am wrong but I certainly have my doubts. 

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