It appeared as though Jim Rutherford was prepared to ease into a post-managerial career when the Carolina Hurricanes announced that their long-time general manager would assume the role of president. That is not the case, as Rutherford is expected to be announced as the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.
Rutherford, 65, is believed to be the driving force behind a succession plan that saw assistant general manager Ron Francis take over as the acting GM of the Hurricanes at the end of April. Rutherford spent 20 years in the position and took over an advisory role as the club's president. But rumors began to surface that Rutherford would be interested in the vacant position in Pittsburgh after the Penguins fired Ray Shero following a poor performance during the 2014 postseason, which saw the club eliminated during the Eastern Conference semifinals.
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The Penguins are considered one of the most talented teams in the NHL and have established a perennial place as an Eastern Conference contender. Rutherford will inherit a roster that is bolstered by the superstar abilities of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a two-headed monster that can give opposing teams nightmares. The club's depth beyond those two has come into question in the wake of their elimination this season and some have expressed that the club might look to make changes up front.
The most immediate issue Rutherford will need to address is the future of head coach Dan Bylsma. Initial reports indicated that Bylsma and Shero would be fired. Only Shero was. Penguins management instead opted to allow the new general manager to make the decision about his coach and the staff. Bylsma is considered one of the most talented coaches in the game and would seemingly find employment immediately in the event that he is relieved. With that mind, Rutherford will need to evaluate if a more promising option is available.
In terms of roster construction, Rutherford has 11 pending free agents (two of which are restricted free agents) and a salary cap payroll just north of $55 million, according to CapGeek.com. Next year's salary cap ceiling has yet to be set, but estimates predict that the total will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $71 million. Notable unrestricted free agents currently under club control include Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres are the two restricted free agents. Of note, Jokinen and Sutter both played for the Hurricanes and were traded to Pittsburgh by Rutherford.
The objective here is simple: Rutherford and the Penguins expect to win the Stanley Cup and expect to do it soon. That's the only reason he would take this position. The Penguins have a loaded roster and have the potential to win a championship every season. Despite this, the club has failed to reach the Stanley Cup Final since its championship run in 2009. Rutherford will be looking to end that drought in short order.
How he goes about doing it will be interesting to watch.