Kovacevic: This won't be about Rutherford
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Does it matter, really, how the Penguins went about finally finding their general manager so long as they got the right result?
Guess time will tell, but at the least time is back on their side.
When Jim Rutherford was ushered Friday into Consol Energy Center's packed press room, introduced as the new GM by CEO David Morehouse, the man's file was filled with 20 years of tenure with the Hartford/Carolina franchise and a Stanley Cup in 2006. He's done it all. He hasn't been the best, and the Hurricanes missing the playoffs the past five years — partly due to poor decisions related to Jordan Staal, Jussi Jokinen and Alexander Semin — would indicate he lost his fastball a while back. But there's no substitute for experience, as they say.
What's more, it sounds like all that experience will be applied intelligently. Rutherford is 65. Let's not pretend he'll do this for long. So it might have been more meaningful than anything to hear — right from his lips — that he'll be tasked with grooming the next GM, as well. And he'll be doing so all along because, on this same day, the front office promoted Jason Botterill, the interim GM since Ray Shero's firing three weeks ago, from assistant to associate GM. Also promoted were Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald from the development staff to assistant GMs. All three, Rutherford said, will be candidates.
Check out Rutherford's candor on that topic: “I would suspect this term for me is probably two or three years here. It's going to be up to ownership who replaces me, but certainly I'll get to know these guys better, and I'll recommend what goes on in the future. Especially Jason. He's a very bright guy. I know he's getting very close.”
What this plan does best is buy time while simultaneously building.
It doesn't thrust the promising but still green Botterill, 38, into a training-wheels position during the prime career points of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Sure, Botterill was Shero's understudy, too, but this will be more akin to a shadow. This, as Rutherford explained to me, was how he just groomed Ron Francis to succeed him in Carolina. Francis tailed Rutherford everywhere, asked questions, watched, learned and got involved.
Guerin, 43, and Fitzgerald, 45 will be there, too, Rutherford made clear: “I will give them big roles, a lot to say.”
Honestly, it's hard not to be excited about this part in particular. All three, I can attest, are hungry. All are deeply invested in the franchise. And all you'd need to see to believe that was Guerin on Friday, all suit-and-tied, smiling ear to ear, shaking hands like he'd won the Powerball. It was pure joy, the kind that's been missing with this franchise for too long. When he beamed, “We're all going to work together to get back to our winning ways,” you could almost see him pulling on that No. 13 sweater.
It'll be fun watching this group, kind of a Generation X front office, choose a head coach in its image, oversee a draft, decide on Matt Niskanen and Kris Letang, swing trades and whatever else.
Some think this is about Rutherford. It isn't. He's a steward. A “mentor,” as he labeled himself. He's here to steer the ship through a critical time while also setting it on the next course.
Hey, I'm no wilder about Rutherford's recent resume in Carolina than anyone else, but I also can't think of anyone in hockey more qualified for this specific task. And that includes Shero.
All that said, so much of what's transpired with the Penguins over the past month shouldn't get swept away.
This front office failed to show its face in public all through this. Again Friday, Morehouse was sent out to speak “on behalf” of Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, even though it was the owners making the moves.
The Penguins should be better than that.
This front office fired Shero but let Dan Bylsma dangle until Friday. And any pretense that they were doing so to give the new GM a chance to keep him was blown up with Rutherford's uncomfortable admissions that he fired Bylsma basically sight unseen. Rutherford never should have been put in that position. It was a sham.
The Penguins should be better than that.
This front office invited ridicule — all justified — for pursuing player agent Pat Brisson, who had the audacity to go public with his rejection, and NBC commentator Pierre McGuire, who had the audacity to be … well, Pierre McGuire. There he was again Friday, all over the radio, slyly dodging comment on a Canadian report that he'd turned down a two-year offer from the Penguins because he demanded five years.
“Absolutely not,” Morehouse told me emphatically and somewhat angrily. He was hardly alone among the Penguins.
But that's dancing with the devil.
The Penguins should have been better than that.
Now, thanks to a series of sensible moves Friday, maybe they will be.
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