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Jim Rutherford named general manager of Penguins

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Jim Rutherford will reportedly be named Penguins GM. (USATSI)
Jim Rutherford will reportedly be named Penguins GM. (Getty Images)

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Jim Rutherford was named general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Rutherford, who earlier this spring stepped aside from his duties as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, had been the dean of NHL general managers having spent 20 consecutive years with the Carolina organization.

Other rumored candidates for the job included Pens assistant general manager Jason Botterill, NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois and a number of others.

As part of this front office move, Botterill was promoted to associate general manager, with Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald elevated to assistant general managers.

Rutherford stepped aside from GM duties, but was expected to stay on with Carolina as the club's president. He was replaced by Hurricanes legend and former Penguin Ron Francis.

Rutherford certainly brings experience and has won a Stanley Cup as a GM, with Carolina in 2006. It's a bit of an interesting move, however, as it appeared the Penguins were looking for a fresh outlook. This feels a little redundant after letting Ray Shero go.

Coming from the old guard of general managers, while many teams are going with more first-time GMs this fall, Rutherford at least brings a steady hand. This is a roster in need of restructuring, but going with a GM who has built a team that has been to the playoffs one time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 is not going to generate a lot of excitement among the fan base.

One of the major knocks on Shero before his firing was the club's dearth of top forward prospects due to poor drafting, essentially. Rutherford's draft track record isn't a lot better.

Since 2005, the Hurricanes have found one impact forward in the draft and that was Jeff Skinner taken with the seventh overall pick in 2010. Brandon Sutter, another Rutherford first-rounder in Carolina, also has become a regular NHLer, but he's now with the Penguins and playing in a depth role. The jury is still out on 2013 first-rounder Elias Lindholm. Most other forwards selected have not yet or won't make it to the NHL.

The club did select defensemen Ryan Murphy, who could develop into a fine offensive defenseman, in the first round in 2011. They also found Justin Faulk and Brett Bellemore, who have become regulars in the Hurricanes lineup as well, but beyond that, there's not a whole lot to write home about. That record is made worse when you note that aside from three draft years between 2005 and 2013, two in which the Canes did not have a first-round pick, they haven't selected lower than 14th.

One could argue Shero has actually had more success drafting in that case as the Pens often picked in the latter half of the first round.

Rutherford, like all general managers has had is hits and misses in player personnel decisions recently.

Waiving Jussi Jokinen during the 2012-13 season, for one, turned out to be a rather strange move. The Canes lucked out by him passing through waivers and were able to get a draft pick out of the Penguins for him. Jokinen was one of the Penguins' top playoff performers this year and is now an unrestricted free agent. I'm guessing he won't be re-signing with the Pens.

Penguins fans will also be familiar with Rutherford stemming from the deal that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina as part of a package that included Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and the first-round pick that ended up turning into Pens' top D prospect Derrick Pouliot. That trade has not worked out particularly well for either team just yet, but the Hurricanes gave up the most to make the deal and have gotten 71 points out of Staal over 130 games.

The long-term deal granted Alexander Semin still has plenty to be decided with four years remaining on his five-year $35 million deal and remains a risky maneuver. Though Rutherford was lauded when he first acquired Semin on a one-year deal that proved fruitful, the second contract is a big gamble.

Additionally, the long-term contract Cam Ward signed looks worse and worse by the year and there are still two seasons left on the deal worth $37.8 million over six years.

Rutherford also made some great moves, like acquiring Andrej Sekera for failed first-rounder Jamie McBain and a second-round pick. Sekera has proven to be as valuable as anyone to the Hurricanes' lineup.

Same goes for Justin Faulk, who was locked down to a rather sensible long-term deal upon the expiration of his entry-level contract. He has grown into a strong No. 1 defenseman for the club.

But like the Penguins, the Hurricanes have had some really strong talent at the top and very little depth to support it. This could be more of the same for Pittsburgh if Rutherford continues to follow his pattern of the last few years.

There's an argument that a change of scenery will be good for Rutherford. After 20 years in one spot, perhaps he got too comfortable and things got too stagnant. A fresh start with a roster with loads of talent on it could be a good thing for the veteran general manager, but this could take a while to convince fans it was the right move.

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