Penguins GM Jim Rutherford overcomes odds, joins Hockey Hall of Fame
At the start of the 2016-17 NHL season, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was told teams couldn’t win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in the salary cap era.
When the Carolina Hurricanes were founded in 1997, Rutherford was told there was no way a team could succeed in a hockey market so non-traditional.
When Rutherford was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of a six-member Class of 2019 on Monday night in Toronto, the final words of his induction speech were a message to the naysayers who ended up being oh so wrong.
“What I’ve learned the most in my life and my advice to people is, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something,’ ” Rutherford said. “Because that was the story of my career. And the more they told me I couldn’t do things, the more it turned out that I did.”
As a player, Rutherford won 151 games for four teams, including the Penguins, during a 13-year NHL career. He gained great renown for being the first goaltender to wear a mask with designs painted on it. He was being inducted, however, as a builder for his work after his playing days were through.
Only three general managers in the NHL’s modern era — Sam Pollock (seven), Glen Sather (five) and Bill Torrey (four) — have more Stanley Cup rings than Rutherford (three).
When he won with the Penguins in 2016, he became the second GM to win the Stanley Cup with two different teams. When the Penguins repeated in ‘17, he became the first GM in the salary cap era to claim back-to-back titles.
He spent the vast majority of his 10-minute speech Monday thanking those that made his journey possible, starting with his parents, John and Dorothy, and his sisters. He also thanked his wife, Leslie, daughter, Andrea, and son, James.
“My family lived paycheck to paycheck, but they always found a way to get me equipment, and they took me to every game and every practice,” Rutherford said.
When it came to players who made his success with the Penguins possible, he mentioned Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Matt Murray, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury specifically.
His most effusive praise was reserved for Crosby.
“The most special aspect of my career has been the chance to be part of a team with Sidney Crosby,” Rutherford said. “It’s really hard to put into words for everyone in Pittsburgh who knows what I’m talking about. It’s remarkable to be able to watch Sid day in and day out, to see his work ethic, to see the impact he has on the team and the city.”
Rutherford mentioned one other player as well.
“I’ve been fortunate to win three Cups as a manager, and there’s one player who’s been with me for all three,” Rutherford said. “I want to recognize Matt Cullen, who played such an important role for all three of those teams.”
Rutherford was presented for induction by Mario Lemieux.
The other inductees honored Monday night were longtime Boston College coach Jerry York in the builder category and players Guy Carbonneau, Valclav Nedomansky, Hayley Wickenheiser and Sergei Zubov.
Carbonneau, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, was a standout two-way forward for Montreal and Dallas. Nedomansky was the first Eastern European player to defect to North America.
Wickenheiser won seven gold medals at the World Championships and four Olympic gold medals in two decades with the Canadian women’s national team. Zubov had 771 points in a 16-year NHL career, including one season with the Penguins in 1995-96.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .