After a three-week search, the Pittsburgh Penguins have found a new general manager.
No, it’s not the walking encyclopedia of hockey knowledge that makes a living commenting from between the benches on NBCSN either.
Instead, Jim Rutherford has been given the task of finding a way to bring the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh.
If you’re not familiar with Rutherford, let’s take a brief look at his most recent history.
Here’s the good:
Rutherford has been with the Carolina Hurricanes for the past 20 years. In that time, the Hurricanes made the Eastern Conference Finals three times (2002, 2006, 2009).
The Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice in 2002 and 2006. In 2002, the Hurricanes lost in five games to the Detroit Red Wings.
In 2006, the Hurricanes finally got over the hump in a thrilling seven-game series against the Edmonton Oilers.
The closest the Hurricanes have come to getting back to the Promised Land was 2009 when they were swept by the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That was also the last time the Hurricanes qualified for the playoffs.
During today’s press conference, Rutherford likely won over some fans with the announcement that Dan Bylsma had been relieved of his coaching duties. Rutherford admitted he had only met with Bylsma a couple of times, but he and ownership agreed a change should be made.
VIDEO: Watch Pt. 1 of the press conference:
The assistant coaches have not been fired, but Rutherford is allowing them to speak with other teams if they wish.
How much of the decision to fire Bylsma was Rutherford’s will likely never be known.
Also during the press conference, he addressed a couple of key concerns about the club.
First, he spoke up and criticized the level of play from the fourth line. Now, which fourth line he’s referring to is in question because you never knew on a shift-by-shift basis which players were on that line.
Anyway, for argument’s sake, let’s just assume he was talking about guys like Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Joe Vitale and Taylor Pyatt.
Aside from penalty killing, what else did they bring to the table? I don’t normally quote the plus-minus statistic, but Pyatt was a minus-15 in only 34 games, while Adams was a minus-16 in 82 games.
Simply put, the bottom six forwards as a whole need to be better constructed. They need to be tough to play against and not be a defensive liability.
The other point Rutherford made was that the next coach of the Penguins needed to be able to make adjustments within a game, playoff series, etc.
If that’s not a damning statement to sum up Bylsma in one sentence, I don’t know what is.
To me, that wasn’t necessarily the problem this year, but it’s valid if you look at his entire body of work. To Bylsma’s credit, he did lead an injury-ravaged team to a regular season division title this year. However, blowing a 3-1 lead against the Rangers with a healthy roster was likely the deathblow.
VIDEO: Watch Pt. 2 of the press conference:
Anyway, part of Rutherford’s lack of recent success with the Hurricanes could be attributed to their financial situation.
Rutherford said the business models between the Penguins and Hurricanes were “different.”
In other words, the Hurricanes haven’t exactly been a team known for spending to the ceiling of the salary cap every year. As a result, that would place an emphasis on drafting and developing players from within right?
This next bit could raise some red flags for Pens fans.
One of Ray Shero’s biggest weaknesses was poor drafting outside of the “slam dunk” or “no-brainer” picks.
Well, Rutherford hasn’t exactly blown anyone away with his draft classes over the past few years.
According to HockeyDB.com, here’s the list of players drafted under Rutherford that have cracked an NHL lineup since their last playoff appearance in 2009:
Brian Dumoulin – Second round 2009 – 6 NHL games
Jeff Skinner – First round 2010 – 259 NHL games
Justin Faulk – Second round 2010 – 180 NHL games
Frederik Andersen –Seventh round 2010 – 28 NHL games
Ryan Murphy – First round 2011 – 52 NHL games
Elias Lindholm – First round 2013 – 58 NHL games
(Games total reflects regular season)
In case you’re keeping track, that’s a grand total of six players to crack an NHL lineup out of the last five draft classes.
- Two of those (Andersen and Dumoulin) broke into the league with a team not named the Carolina Hurricanes.
- Three of those (Skinner, Murphy, Lindholm) were first round picks.
- Over that period of time, the Hurricanes made 33 selections.
For comparison’s sake, here’s the list of Penguins’ draft picks to crack an NHL lineup since 2009:
Simon Despres – First round 2009 – 85 NHL games
Philip Samuelsson – Second round 2009 – 5 NHL games
Ben Hanowski – Third round 2009 – 16 NHL games
Beau Bennett – First round 2010 – 47 NHL games
Kenneth Agostino – Fifth round 2010 – 8 NHL games
Olli Maatta – First round 2012 – 78 NHL games
It’s kind of eerie to look at really:
- The Penguins had 33 draft picks over the same period of time.
- Three of the names on that list (Despres, Bennett, Maatta) are first round selections.
- Two of them (Agostino, Hanowski) broke into the league with another club.
If you’re looking for a positive here for Rutherford, it’s that one of those six aforementioned picks has more total games himself (Skinner, 259) than all of Shero’s picks combined (239) over the last five years.
There’s obviously a lot of different factors in this, including where in the draft that these teams picked. There’s also the player development factor and how long it takes on average to develop from a prospect to an NHL player. This is just a baseline comparison.
Both teams have some promising young players in waiting, but it remains to be seen what their careers have in store.
Now, another major facet of the role of general manager is trading. Without boring you with the details, here’s his trade history.
Read through it if you like, but the basic summary is that there’s not much eye-popping material over the last five years or so.
However, when presented with the possibility of winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, Rutherford did go for it. He paid a decent price to bring in Mark Recchi and Doug Weight and it worked.
In 2009, he again went for it and brought in Jussi Jokinen and Erik Cole around the trade deadline.
If any of this is worrisome, relax.
Rutherford doesn’t seem like a long-term plan for the Penguins. In fact, he basically admitted as much during the press conference.
In Carolina, Rutherford served as a mentor to Ron Francis, who is now the general manager. During today’s press conference, he said that he’d likely be in Pittsburgh for two or three years and he expects to mentor Tom Fitzgerald, Bill Guerin and Jason Botterill.
All three of them were given new titles today as well.
On the surface, this says the Penguins didn’t feel Botterill was quite ready to assume the full GM duties at this point in his career. Under Rutherford, his responsibilities will expand and he’ll likely be near the top of the list when Rutherford’s time here is complete.
It also appears that Fitzgerald and Guerin will be leaned on more and that the Penguins will take a “group think” approach to hockey decisions. This is not a bad idea either, especially considering the compressed schedule of events about to take place.
It took three weeks for the Penguins to find Shero’s replacement. They have about the same amount of time to get ready for the upcoming draft and free agency.
It goes without saying, but Rutherford will be jumping in the deep end right out of the gate with his new team.
Time will tell if he sinks or swims.
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