The Jim Rutherford era in Pittsburgh is over, ending today with the surprise resignation from the Penguins’ general manager. According to Penguins team president David Morehouse, there are no physical health problems with Rutherford, who was in the final year of his contract but opted to step away seven games into the season for “personal reasons”. Via Rob Rossi as a guest on 93.7 Fan, we’re told that owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle still wanted Rutherford to be their GM and were planning on signing him to another contract.
For Rutherford, it’s a break. Interesting in his statement, he didn’t announce a retirement but didn’t specify much further than saying, “I know it’s a little unusual to have this happen during a season, but just felt this was the right time to step away.”
Everything about the last 10+ months has been unusual, but it’s an understatement to say leaving of one’s own volition in a pandemic year, at the beginning of a regular season is a complete shocker.
The dean of hockey reporters Bob McKenzie weighed in with his take:
He was, of course, “retired” in Carolina but came out of retirement for a chance to win the Cup in PIT. Well, he won two of them and what he thought might be a short three-season tenure with the Pens extended to seven. Now, that’s over. What comes next? Check back in the summer.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 27, 2021
Ken Campbell pretty much has the same train of thought, where it sure looks like Rutherford just got to the end of his rope and pulled out early from his job.
Just got off the phone with Jim Rutherford. He said "It's time to take it easy." His contract is up in June and he may retire then, or look to get back in the game with another team. "In the next 4 or 5 months, I'll decide whether I want to keep doing something or just retire."— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) January 27, 2021
But now, what is next for the Penguins? They’ve named 46-year old Patrik Allvin to be interim GM, who pretty much was the only logical internal candidate remaining from a management group that once included Bill Guerin (current Minnesota GM), Jason Botterill (former Buffalo GM, and future Seattle AGM), and Tom Fitzgerald (current New Jersey GM).
Fitzgerald could be a name to watch, Elliotte Friedman has reported in the past that Fitzgerald only has this one season left on his contract as Devils GM, and is a manager known and respected within the organization.
Penguins will immediately begin a broad search, both looking at internal and external possibilities. No firm time line but I also don't think the Penguins want this to to drag too long.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) January 27, 2021
Allvin would certainly be the last remaining serious internal candidate, though the Pens do also have another assistant GM in Sam Ventura. It might be important to remember that Botterill was the last interim GM after Ray Shero was fired in 2014, and Boterill of course did not get the promotion to the top job.
If the Pens look externally, here are some names that could be in the mix:
—Currently an AGM with Toronto, Gilman has worked with Vancouver and Winnipeg/Phoenice as an AGM in the past and has a reputation for being a Botterill-type detail-oriented type of manager
—The former GM of Vancouver from 2008-14, Gillis has been out of the game for a bit but expressed a lot of interest and openness towards analytics. At 62 he would be older than most candidates, but as the Penguins went against the grain for the Rutherford hire, Gillis would fit the mold of being an experienced GM.
—A former LA AGM, Futa interviewed with Florida this summer for their GM job, though he didn’t get it. Always seems to be one of those named involved in the interview process.
—We know the Penguins were interested to Brisson, who is Sidney Crosby’s agent and a long-time friend of Lemieux and Burkle. It got to the point where Brisson publicly acknowledged that he would not pursue the Pens job in 2014. Would he be interested now in 2021?
—There were rumors this off-season that never came to pass that said the Pens were interested in bringing Tallon in as a member of their management team. Tallon was recently fired from Florida, and most recently is famous for his stint as the Chicago Blackhawks GM from 2005-09 where he set most of the pieces in place for Chicago to win three Cups in the 2010’s.
—The NBC talking head had two interviews with the Pens in 2014 and it got to the point where he thought he was close to being offered the job. (He wasn’t). McGuire also interviewed with Arizona for their GM job in 2020. Would the Penguins really do this to us and make themselves the laughingstock of the league? It’s almost too much to consider.
—Botteril was just named to Seattle’s management team three weeks ago, but a promotion to a full GM job would be a step up. Perhaps the most fitting conclusion to this very strange saga would be the initial guy they groomed for the job for years to come back and take it after all?
Ironically enough, Rutherford said on the day he was hired that he thought he had two or three seasons at the helm in Pittsburgh. Instead, he strangely walks away of his own accord (and apparently fully healthy according to the team) early into his seventh season. It’s a very bizarre ending, but now the team will have to fill a very important role to direct their team in the closing days of the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin era.