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The Jim Rutherford Files

Welcome to the new age. Jim Rutherford is the new GM of the Penguins.

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Rutherford himself mentioned during his introductory press conference that he only expects to be here a couple years while mentoring the Pens’ up-and-coming GM farm of Botterill, Guerin, and Fitzgerald. Basically, the Pens think they have their next GM in the organization, but they wanted to bring in a fresh face to get those guys to think differently.

Regardless of what Rutherford will be doing in Pittsburgh, it’s definitely worth it to look at this recent track record as a GM and see what he’s bringing to the Pens’ table.

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Rutherford’s drafts vs. Ray Shero’s drafts

This past season, we looked at Shero’s drafts, and it was a rough time. Now it’s time to look at Rutherford’s drafts during that same stretch.

FORWARDS

Rutherford’s forward draft picks, excluding first-rounders:

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Shero’s:

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Fart sounds all day for both GMs.

DEFENSEMEN

Rutherford:

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Shero:

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The biggest takeaway is that Rutherford drafted a defenseman named Michal Jordan.

“Circle-jerk” debate

In our Shero post, we said this:

“We’ve taken out all first-round draft picks to level the playing field a little bit, because that’s a slippery slope to go down. By that metric, Craig Patrick may be the best GM on the planet. Plus, we didn’t want to go down the road of defining first-round busts and, ‘Oh, why did Shero draft that guy when he could’ve drafted that guy?’ It’s a circle-jerk debate that goes nowhere.”

So here we are, circle-jerking and looking at Rutherford’s first-round picks. Rutherford’s first draft as Carolina GM was in 1997…at the Civic Arena.

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- 12 out of 15 picks were North American players.

- Biggest mistake(s): Drafting Zach Boychuk one pick in front of Erik Karlsson in 2008. Drafting Igor Knyazev in 2001.

- Best pick(s): Jeff Skinner (’10) and Cam Ward (’02)

- Hockey’s Future had this to say about the Hurricanes’ current prospects:

“Newly appointed GM Ron Francis will have his work cut out for him. Excluding Lindholm, there are no forwards with top-six potential, and the center and right wing positions are especially shallow. Goaltending continues to be a concern with no aid coming for the foreseeable future.”

Carolina was ranked 29th by Hockey’s Future in organizational prospects.

“As with most franchises, player development involves hits and misses and the Hurricanes were the same under Jim Rutherford,” Canes beat writer Chip Alexander told us.“When you look at Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk, to throw out a few names, you see Hurricanes players who were drafted by the team and were developed into core guys. Brandon Sutter was another.”

Chip Alexander did admit that there were questions about Rutherford and his management in Carolina regarding patience and opportunities for young players:

“But players such as Skinner, a skilled scorer who needed improvement in the defensive zone, was given that opportunity.”

Rutherford’s trading capabilities

In talking with Carolina blogger Corey Sznajder, he said this about Jim Rutherford’s trading prowess:

“Trades under him were a mixed bag. He did a fantastic job of building the Hurricanes up at the 2006 deadline and a few of the players he acquired were a big part of the team’s Cup run. He also has a decent history of taking on ‘reclamation projects’ and getting a lot out of players who wore out their welcome elsewhere. That’s how he initially got Justin Williams, Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu, Scotty Walker, Dennis Seidenberg and more recently, Andrej Sekera. You can probably throw Alex Semin into this conversation, too even though he paid up for him eventually.”

Rutherford made 119 trades as Hurricanes GM. [ History of hockey trades ] That is about an average of 6.2 trades per season. By comparison, Ray Shero had 54 trades in 8 years, for an average of 6.75.

Rutherford has won a few trades and has made some suspect calls, as well. We’re gonna focus on three years.

In 2001-2002, Rutherford made his biggest move in January. The Canes went on to get teabagged by the Wings in the Cup Finals.

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The News Observer called the move Rutherford’s best:

“In January 2002, Rutherford sent oft-injured and frequently wandering defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and his massive contract to the Florida Panthers for Bret Hedican and Kevyn Adams, who would play essential roles on two conference championship teams and a Stanley Cup champion while cleaning up one of Rutherford’s own missteps.”

In 2005-2006, Rutherford made two solid moves:
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Recchi and Weight combined for 32 points in the playoffs as the Canes went on to win the Stanley Cup. Another big January deal.

In 2008-2009, Rutherford made some interesting moves:

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A big trade in early February. Jokinen was second on the Canes in playoff scoring, Erik Cole, however, only had 5 assists in 18 games. The Canes got smoked by the Pens in the East Finals.

Notable items about Rutherford’s trading

- Watch for December and January. 13 out of 17 years (two years lost to lockouts), Rutherford made deals in December or January. Could be some type of method used by Rutherford to review his roster mid-season.

- Without a doubt, one of Rutherford’s biggest trades is the Jordan Staal trade. Carolina blogger Corey Sznajder mentioned this, as well:

” I thought the trade was a slight overpayment at the time and I didn’t like that JR gave him a 10-year contract right off the bat, but I’m okay with the trade now because I don’t think it set back the team too much. I wasn’t thrilled that they had to give up Dumoulin at the time, though because I thought he would be in the NHL within the year.”

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Ray Shero was lauded for the haul. Rutherford inked Staal to a 10-year $60-million deal right after it. Sunbelt Hockey did an interesting look back on the deal and noted several important points.

“If this were a one-for-one trade, it would have to be among Rutherford’s best. But other pieces changed hands.

The jury is still out on the 8th overall pick and Brian Dumoulin, who recently made his NHL debut. They could turn out to be stars, or they could turn out to be duds. All the same, Pittsburgh needed blue-chip blue-liners and snagged two from the ‘Canes.

In the end, Rutherford paid a significant price for a significant upgrade, and Penguins’ GM Ray Shero found his third-line center while strengthening his prospect pool. Not every trade has a winner and a loser. This one benefited both teams.”

Free agency/re-signing players

Rutherford has never been shy in either one of these catergories. Arguably one of his best moves was also one of the low points for the Penguins in the ’90s. Rutherford brought Ron Francis back to the same organization that traded him seven years prior. Francis went on to play another five seasons in Carolina, helping the Canes make a Cup run along the way.

The Fedorov offer sheet

In 1998 Sergei Fedorov was a restricted free agent. Carolina signed him to a offer sheet that was first rejected by the NHL, but then ruled to be okay. Detroit finally decided to match after it was ruled to be a valid contract:

While I am returning to the Red Wings with a desire to win another Stanley Cup, I want to add that I have the utmost appreciation and respect for the Carolina Hurricanes,” Fedorov said. “Their desire to bring me to their team will never be forgotten. I wish them every success in the future.”

Arbitrator John Sands ruled earlier Thursday that Carolina’s offer sheet did not violate the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The NHL had challenged the deal because it offered Fedorov a $12-million bonus if his team reaches the conference finals this year.

The Semin contract

Rutherford came out of nowhere and signed Alex Semin to a one-year, $7-million deal in the summer of 2012. After the lockout, Semin played well enough to earn a 5-year, $35-million extension. The move was all part of putting together an elite top-six in Carolina. Semin joined the Staal brothers and Jeff Skinner as long-term Canes.

Corey Sznajder did a great breakdown of Semin’s stats and projections for last season. Semin missed 17 games, however, and fell short of those projections. Overall, though, the deal was a lot better than some think.

A “budget” team, and a stressed GM

The News Observer’s Chip Alexander about how Rutherford operated his team:

“Jim Rutherford always called the Canes a “budget” team and it has been most seasons, mostly a product of being a smaller-market team. Last season, they spent close to the salary cap but that has not been the norm. Rutherford’s relationship with Canes owner Peter Karmanos goes back more than 30 years,” Alexander said.

We also asked about Canes owner Peter Karmanos. Did he prevent any success Rutherford may have had?

Alexander told  us, “Karmanos did not often stand in the way or object to some big-money decisions Rutherford proposed such as the five-year, $35 million contract extension for Alexander Semin or the 10-year, $60 million extension for Jordan Staal.

If anything, Rutherford had become embattled in so much stress, it began to wear on him. We asked Alexander if Rutherford got stale in Carolina.

“I don’t think the word “stale” is the right one,” Alexander said. ” I think the weight of being both team president and GM, and missing the playoffs five straight years wore down Jim Rutherford. Peter Karmanos said he became a little worried about him because of the stress. Rutherford always had a lot invested in the welfare of the franchise, physically and emotionally.

We asked another blogger, Bob Wage of Canes Country, if he thought Rutherford’s tenure was successful.

“He did a masterful job of putting together that team which was very under-rated at the beginning of the year, (100-1 long shot to win the Cup).  People have to remember that the Hurricanes pretty much started from scratch in Carolina and had to build a fanbase here from the ground up,” Wage pointed out.

Wage also said that Rutherford was “was very good with the public, often times reaching out to season ticketholders and answering phone calls and emails.”

Head coaches under Rutherford

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There have been only 3. Paul Maurice took over in 1997 and lasted until 2003.

Carolina Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette talks to David Tanabe during a break in the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit

Rutherford then hired Peter Laviolette, who won a Cup, but was fired in 2008.

Paul Maurice came back for another three-season run after that and then gave way to Kirk Muller, who went a decent 80-80-27 in three seasons.

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Summary

In all actuality, no one has any clue what’s going to happen. Botterill may take a GM job somewhere else by the end of next season. Maybe he’s insulted that the Pens didn’t think he was ready to step into the GM’s shoes. Rutherford could be here for a couple years, and there’s the possibility he might have to strap in for a while.

The Rutherford hire isn’t the worst thing to ever happen to the Penguins franchise. The trust the fanbase has in management has taken a pounding over the last month, so you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone jumping for joy about the Rutherford hire.

It’s not the worst thing because Rutherford’s career is so much more than “5 playoff appearances in 19 seasons.” He was in a different kitchen. It’s not the greatest because the Penguins brass lamented Shero’s drafting, and yet Rutherford’s record is just as rough.

Mike Colligan said it best to us recently:

“This is a critical offseason for the Penguins and I’d argue that less is more when it comes to any major trades in the short-term. Pittsburgh doesn’t need a rebuild, but they can’t afford a tear down. Be sure of one thing: Fellow GMs are circling, just waiting for Rutherford to make a move.”

First things first, though: a head coach…

 

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