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Mark Madden

IS RUTHERFORD TEMPORARY?

 

Hiring Jim Rutherford as GM on the anniversary of D-Day is ironic. He looks old enough to have fought at Omaha Beach. Perhaps even at Gettysburg.

If the Penguins wanted old school, that’s what they got. Rutherford is 65, a hockey lifer, a former Pens goaltender. In 1974, the Penguins traded Rutherford to Detroit for defenseman Ron Stackhouse, who had a solid career in Pittsburgh.

So, at least Rutherford was useful to the Penguins then.

Rutherford was president, GM and part-owner at Hartford/Carolina from 1994-2014 before being succeeded as GM by Ron Francis.

Carolina won the Stanley Cup in ’06 after losing in the ’02 final. But Rutherford’s track record is mixed: His teams made the playoffs just five times in 20 seasons. But Carolina didn’t spend to the salary-cap limit. The Penguins do.

As a GM, the best word to describe him is “vanilla.” As the Penguins’ GM, the best word to describe him might be “temporary.”

Given the younger candidates available, it’s easy to think Rutherford was hired to be a short-timer. It’s even easier to think Mike Babcock will replace Rutherford as GM next season, assuming the coaching duties as well.

Babcock has one year left on his contract with Detroit. Until he signs an extension, the notion of him coming to Pittsburgh for 2015-16 will persist. If a “temporary” head coach replaces Dan Bylsma – somebody like Jacques Martin, 61 – that notion will grow even stronger.

Allowing Bylsma to coach another year fits that template. But it’s hard to imagine that happening given Bylsma’s fractured relationship with the dressing room, and with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in particular.

Babcock could always stay in Detroit or go to Toronto. But he’s going to be tempted by the idea of working with Crosby, a union that has produced two Olympic gold medals for Canada.

Twitter is already blasting Rutherford’s hire, but Twitter was ready to blast any hire. Pessimism permeates the Penguins’ partisans. And alliteration rules.

UPDATE: Bylsma got fired. Rutherford’s first move was an obvious one.

Jason Botterill stays as associate GM. Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin are assistant GMs. Rutherford said ownership wants “a complete change in direction.” Not that many faces have yet changed, however. The assistant coaches are still employed, but have been given permission to look elsewhere.

Perhaps Rutherford is grooming Botterill. Or maybe Botterill is a safety valve if Babcock can’t be enticed next year. The Penguins like big names. The organization likes to make a splash. Don’t count Babcock out. But the Penguins had to sell today’s moves as long-term, and it might turn out that way.

Bylsma and ex-GM Ray Shero were supposed to be new-age hockey gurus. Now a 65-year-old man says the Penguins weren’t “up to speed on analytics.” Rutherford also said Bylsma couldn’t adjust. Seems I’ve mentioned that previously.

President/CEO David Morehouse says the Pens had 30 GM candidates and interviewed 22. That process was either exhaustive or unnecessary, maybe both.

Rutherford said the Penguins’ supporting cast, in so many words, blows. He also thinks the Pens need more vocal players in the dressing room. 

What a keen hockey mind. If that’s all if takes, I should have applied.

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