Penguins sign GM Jim Rutherford to 3-year extension
When Jim Rutherford began his hockey career in 1970 as 21-year-old goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, he didn’t figure on a long playing career.
“Maybe for a few years,” he said
Turns out, he played long enough to collect 11,491 saves in 13 seasons for four teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When he was hired as the Penguins’ general manager in 2014 to replace Ray Shero, he made no promises to stick around longer than three years.
Yet, there he was Wednesday — the architect of two Stanley Cup champions — speaking to reporters about his second contract extension with the Penguins, this one good through the 2021-22 season.
“I guess I went a couple years at a time, and it was two times, two times two and we’re still counting,” Rutherford said.
“Best phone call I ever made,” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said.
“I remember that day,” said Rutherford, who had been general manager of the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes for the previous 20 years. “I was thinking about starting to take it easy, instead of working, five years ago, and I got the phone call from David. That was probably the best phone call I got in my career.”
Morehouse was so comfortable with Rutherford running the hockey operation this year, he said he didn’t even know his contract was due to expire in 2019 until he looked it up.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Morehouse said.
Rutherford, the only NHL general manager since the 1967 expansion to win Stanley Cups with two teams (Hurricanes, 2006), was hired at a turbulent time in Penguins history, with coach Dan Bylsma on his way out after a string of early playoff exits.
“If I had to mold out of clay what we needed at that time, I think he was the perfect fit,” Morehouse said. “He has an insatiable appetite for winning. I think he carries (owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux’s) mission directly as they want him to. They respect Jim’s experience. They respect Jim’s decision-making. He brings people together. He understands the ebbs and flows, and he doesn’t panic.
“He’s like a Pittsburgh guy. He’s plain-spoken. He’ll tell you what he thinks, tell you when he disagrees with you. You don’t have to read between any lines with Jim Rutherford.
“He doesn’t have fear of being wrong. That’s a hard thing to come by in sports. He’ll make a move, and if he thinks it’s the wrong move, he’ll say it’s the wrong move. He’s not going to try and sugar-coat anything.”
Rutherford said he is sticking around for another three seasons after this one, largely because of how he is treated by ownership.
“I’m treated here in Pittsburgh as good as anybody could be treated, from the fans, to the players, to the coaches, to all the people I work with, but especially to the owners,” he said. “It’s hard to put in words how great our ownership is. They are always there for me and for the team to do whatever we need, part of the reason I’m staying.
“I doubt there are many people in professional sports who are as fortunate as I am.”
Rutherford will turn 70 on Feb. 17, but the Penguins have no concerns about his age.
“Any questions about his age or vitality, he’s answered himself,” Morehouse said. “You see him chase his kid (10-year-old James) around the yard a couple times, you’ll know he’s not your normal person at 69.”
Said Rutherford: “The more you keep moving, the more you keep driving yourself, the better you feel. Another part of that is I have a 10-year-old son. He drives me also.
“My family, my daughter, my wife. I’m kind of in a unique situation as far as somebody at this stage of my life. I think all those factors, they keep me going.”
Morehouse said he asked Rutherford if he would like to extend the contract to 2032, and he was only half-joking.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if I want to go that long. I may have some other options in 10 years.’ ”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter@JDiPaola_Trib.