UPDATE: Reports coming in now that Rutherford fired coach Dan Bylsma. Well, that was fast.
Former Carolina Hurricane General Manager Jim Rutherford will be named to that same position by the Pittsburgh Penguins according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. The 65-year old Rutherford stepped down from his duties with the Hurricanes at the end of April after another disappointing season in Carolina. Rutherford will assume the role in Pittsburgh most recently held by Ray Shero who was fired after the Penguins’ collapse against the Rangers in May.
Rutherford will be charged with helping the Penguins get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2009. It doesn’t hurt ot have a foundation of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang to work with, but plenty of issues remain: will Marc-Andre Fleury be back for the last year of his contract? Can the Penguins add sufficient forward depth to alleviate the burden on its top-6? Should free agents Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Jussi Jokinen be retained? These are just some of the key issues surrounding the team’s immediate future. However the most immediate question should be the future of coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma survived the initial firing squad, but should be on pins and needles now with Rutherford calling the shots.
Fleury could be in for some stiffer competition now with his starting job. Rutherford inked Carolina goalie Cam Ward to a six-year contract extension several years ago. Ward has struggled with his play and some injuries the past few seasons, but at 30, still should have some life in his legs. I will be curious to see if Rutherford attempts to bring in Ward on the cheap (perhaps even requiring the Hurricanes to eat a chunk of salary) to battle Fleury for the Penguins’ starting job. It seems like Ward’s days in Carolina are numbered and with Rutherford in Pittsburgh, no doubt the connections will be brought up.
It is interesting that the Penguins would turn to Rutherford based on his recent work in Carolina. He did build a championship squad in 2006, but the team hasn’t qualified for the post-season the past five years. He left the Hurricanes and its new General Manager Ron Francis some some talent to work with but clearly with significant issues. Also at age 65, this move looks like a short-term bridge to mentor a successor.
With rumors circulating of other candidates including NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, it appears the Penguins went for “safe” over “bold” with its new General Manager. Rutherford’s a good hockey man, but we’ll see if he still has the ability to build a championship club.