Penguins GM Jim Rutherford chosen for Hockey Hall of Fame
Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford turned 70 back in February, but all it took was a phone call Tuesday afternoon to turn him into a teenager sending a text.
“I said, ‘OMG,’ ” Rutherford relayed, describing his reaction when he heard Lanny McDonald and John Davidson were on the other end of a phone call he received as he was driving a few minutes from his home. “I knew when it was them calling.”
McDonald is the chairman of the board of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Davidson is the head of the selection committee. They were telling Rutherford he was a member of the class of 2019, which will be inducted Nov. 18 in Toronto.
“It was probably the most humbling experience that I’ve had in my hockey career,” Rutherford said. “I really didn’t know what to say, and I’m still at the point where I’m really not sure how to put this all in words, but it’s certainly a great honor and an exciting day for me and my family.”
Rutherford and longtime college hockey coach Jerry York will be inducted as builders. Former Penguins defenseman Sergei Zubov will be joined by Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky and Hayley Wickenhesier in the player category.
Rutherford is the fifth Penguins coach or executive inducted as a builder, joining Scotty Bowman, Herb Brooks, Bob Johnson and Craig Patrick.
Zubov, who had 66 points in 64 games in his one season with the team in 1995-96, is the 12th Penguins player so honored, joining Andy Bathgate, Leo Boivin, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Tim Horton, Mario Lemieux, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Mark Recchi, Luc Robitaille and Bryan Trottier.
Rutherford said the first memory that popped into his head after receiving the call was his first moment on skates, surrounded by his parents, starting a lifelong journey in the sport.
After he retired from a 14-year playing career as a goalie that included a stop with the Penguins from 1971-74, he met a computer software executive, Peter Karmanos, who would help chart the course of his managerial career.
Karmanos asked him to run a hockey camp for goalies. That led to jobs in youth hockey and the Ontario Hockey League and, eventually, the GM post with the Hartford Whalers.
“I didn’t know how to do anything else,” Rutherford said. “Stick with the game of hockey and do what I know. I love the game, so I wanted to stay in the game.”
The Hall of Fame was the furthest thing from his mind during the early days. The Whalers missed the playoffs his first three seasons at the helm, then moved to Carolina. For their first two years, the Hurricanes played in Greensboro while their arena in Raleigh was under construction.
“It was a struggle,” Rutherford said.
Eventually, the long climb at Karmanos’ side reached its pinnacle when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
The second act of Rutherford’s career began in 2014 with the Penguins, months after he stepped away from the Hurricanes after 20 years in charge.
“Before I got the call from David Morehouse, I had pretty much made up my mind that I’d put enough time in the game and I was going to retire,” Rutherford said. “But then when I came and I had that meeting with the owners, it was like, ‘Well, this is a great opportunity. I’m pretty sure I can win a championship here.’ ”
He did just that, becoming the second GM to win the Stanley Cup with two different teams. Then he won another, becoming the first GM in the salary cap era to claim back-to-back titles.
In the modern era, only three general managers have won more than his three championships: Sam Pollock (seven), Glen Sather (five) and Bill Torrey (four).
They’re all in the Hall of Fame.
In November, Rutherford will be too.
“I’ve got some good fortune and met a lot of great people and I’ve had the good fortune of having a lot of great players to help me get to the success of winning championships,” Rutherford said, “which ultimately gets you to the hall of fame.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .