Pens' new GM charged with winning Cup, mentoring assistants
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An ownership group that fired a general manager for not winning enough in the playoffs turned over the hockey side of their franchise Friday to a man with a Stanley Cup on his resume — but whose previous teams did not participate in the past five postseasons.
The Penguins introduced Jim Rutherford, a minority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, as their 10th general manager and executive vice president during a news conference at Consol Energy Center. He received a three-year contract and said he will sell his stake in the Hurricanes.
Rutherford replaced Ray Shero, who was fired May 16 after eight seasons.
Three men hired by Shero — Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin — were promoted to new positions.
Botterill, 38, is the associate general manager after spending the past five years as Shero's assistant. Fitzgerald and Guerin are now assistant general managers. Fitzgerald, 45, had worked the past five years as the assistant to the general manager. Guerin, 43, spent the past four years as player development coach.
Botterill and Fitzgerald interviewed for the general manager job, CEO/president David Morehouse said Friday.
“They were very seriously considered,” he said. “Their body of work speaks for itself. They're both very good people. They're going to make great general managers.”
Rutherford agreed. At 65, he acknowledged he might not be long for this job, which follows a 20-season run as Carolina's general manager that included a Cup win in 2006 and Final appearance in 2002.
“I feel that we have two or three guys here who are very close to becoming general managers,” Rutherford said. “What I will do is give them big roles, a lot of say and a lot of input in my final decisions.
“But at the same time, I know I'm mentoring them. I would suspect — I mean, nobody knows what's going to happen — but I would suspect that this term for me is probably two or three years.”
Rutherford suggested the search for the Penguins' next coach could last at least three weeks. It is necessary because he fired coach Dan Bylsma on Friday morning.
Rutherford acknowledged that ownership “agreed making a change was the right thing to do.”
The Penguins retained Bylsma, the franchise leader in regular-season and playoff wins, when Shero was fired. Majority co-owner Mario Lemieux thought so highly of Bylsma that he told the Tribune-Review on May 16, “If Dan was fired, he'd get a job tomorrow.”
Bylsma and Shero led the Penguins to their Cup win in 2009. That season they swept Rutherford's Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final.
Bylsma and Shero's Penguins never returned to the Cup Final and advanced past Round 2 of the playoffs only once over the past five years.
Rutherford's Hurricanes failed to qualify for the playoffs after losing to the Penguins in that conference final.
“I have reasons, and I know what they were,” Rutherford said of the Hurricanes' struggles, though he offered only Carolina's “goaltending issues with injuries.”
“For the most part, we played right down to the stretch, right down to the last game in some seasons as far as not making it,” he said. “We had competitive teams.”
Competitive won't suffice with the Penguins, according to ownership.
“We aren't happy to be in the top quartile,” majority co-owner Ron Burkle said in the Trib interview on the day Shero was fired. “If you make it to (Round 2), you're in the top quartile. That's good enough for some. It isn't where we want to be.”
Morehouse said the general manager search started with a list of 30 names. Conversations were held with 22 candidates. Nine were interviewed in person, and four were finalists, Morehouse said.
Rutherford stepped down as Carolina's general manager April 28, ceding the position to then-assistant and former Penguins player Ron Francis.
The dual role of general manager and president “really wore on me,” Rutherford said Friday.
“It became very difficult over the last two or three years,” he said.
During that span Rutherford struck two deals with Shero.
On the trade deadline in 2013, he dealt winger Jussi Jokinen to the Penguins, and the Hurricanes took on a portion of Jokinen's salary. Jokinen, an impending free agent, led the Penguins in goals this past postseason.
The other trade happened at the NHL Entry Draft in 2012, when Rutherford acquired center Jordan Staal in exchange for a first-round pick that became top prospect Derrick Pouliot, fellow defenseman Brian Dumoulin and center Brandon Sutter.
That deal was privately bragged about by Penguins brass because Shero was perceived to have landed a big haul for Staal, who had rejected a 10-year contract offer.
Rutherford will evaluate the entire hockey operations department and add a staffer — perhaps as a third assistant, he said — to incorporate analytics/metrics into the Penguins' evaluation process.
He will answer to Morehouse, who reports to Lemieux and Burkle.
“I'm very comfortable with my position and that I have complete control,” Rutherford said. “It's one thing that I talked to Ron about. I know he's not here a lot, but he said, ‘How do you deal with the owner?'
“I deal with an owner the way he wants me to.”
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