This past Wednesday, Hall of Fame GM Jim Rutherford resigned as the Penguins General Manager after spending seven seasons with the team.
Rutherford has received criticism over the past couple over years with the team’s lack of success in the postseason. But, instead of discussing the negatives of his time with the Pens, the positives should be brought up more. He became one of the reasons why the Pens won back to back Stanley Cups, as well as becoming a standard in the playoffs.
Rutherford was hired to replace then General Manager Ray Shero in 2014. That same year, he stepped down as the Carolina Hurricanes GM, saying he would join another team if he felt he could win another title. The Penguins were still in the mix for a Stanley Cup, just a few years off of their 08-09 title, so the fit was perfect.
One of the key moves Rutherford made was firing Head Coach Mike Johnston and replacing him with Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s (Pittsburgh AHL affiliate) Mike Sullivan. I’m going to list a bunch of Sullivan’s accomplishments with the team thus far:
-1st American born Head Coach to win multiple Stanley Cups
-2nd Head Coach to win Stanley Cups in his first two seasons
-2nd AHL-Promoted Head Coach to win a Stanley Cup
On top of these records, Sullivan changed the culture on the Penguins bench, leading a more disciplined team onto the ice. He signed a 4-year contract extension in 2019.
The GM of Trades
Rutherford was trigger happy when it came to trades. But, the trades were well worth it and helped out the Crosby-Malkin tandem. Rutherford knew he had to build around arguably the top center duo at the time. This duo was a generational one, so the opportunity could not have been missed.
In their Stanley Cup runs, Rutherford executed a lot of trades. Some of these acquisitions include Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and guys like Justin Shcultz. All of these players became system players to work around the roster there. They all meshed perfectly together, putting Rutherford in the spotlight as the trade master. These moves also preserved the legacies of Crosby and Malkin, given them two more Cups to add to their already crowded resumes.
Why is He Criticized?
Rutherford is widely criticized for his moves as of late. A majority of the players he traded for were traded away. The biggest one is probably sending Phil Kessel away, re-acquiring Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen was the asset traded away for Kessel. More of these head scratching moves include giving Jack Johnson a big contract, as well as trying to bring in players who are either on the back end of their career, or have not played to expectations.
Rutherford will probably be remembered for the most recent moves. But, he shouldn’t. He was the one to pull the string together behind the scenes and put together a roster to win back to back Cups. Rutherford was a GM like no other. No general manager has tweaked a roster like him, and there probably won’t be one like him. He was a GM who wanted to work with the present. Did it work? Yes. Rutherford made moves to win. Not moves to win 5 or 10 years down the line, he made moves to win in the immediate. Pens fans should be thankful for the former general manager, not only for the Cups, but for giving them the opportunity to see what a duo like Crosby and Malkin can be, because Rutherford brought out their full potential. Rutherford deserves to be recognized in a positive manner, not a negative.