Rutherford, 65, said he expects to hold the position for two to three years while mentoring possible future general managers, including Jason Botterill, who was promoted to associate GM. Botterill, who was Penguins assistant GM, had been serving as interim GM since Ray Shero was fired May 16.
"This is a job that most GMs would love to have," Rutherford said. "I was very lucky and very fortunate at this point in my career that I could get this opportunity."
Rutherford said he met with Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and president David Morehouse on Saturday. He received a phone call Thursday from Morehouse, who asked what his position was with the Carolina Hurricanes and if Rutherford was interested in running another NHL team.
"Obviously the fact that it was the Pittsburgh Penguins, it didn't take me long to say yes," Rutherford said.
Morehouse said Pittsburgh never offered the GM position to any candidate other than Rutherford.
"We had an original list of 30," he said. "We talked to 22, we brought nine into Pittsburgh and then we brought four back as finalists. There were some really good candidates in the mix, but Jim Rutherford's resume was tough to top."
Rutherford was GM of the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes for 20 years before resigning in April to move into an advisory role as team president. He shepherded the franchise in its move from Hartford to North Carolina in 1997 and built a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2006 and also went to the Cup Final in 2002.
The Whalers/Hurricanes made the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times in Rutherford's tenure and won three division titles.
Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. told the Raleigh News and Observer that Rutherford's contract with Carolina, which had two years left, became nullified when the Penguins hired him. However, Rutherford does have an ownership stake in the Hurricanes, and he said that will have to be settled.
Karmanos hired Rutherford when he purchased the Whalers in 1994 and said he was thrilled Rutherford was undertaking another challenge.
"Jim's my best friend, and I'm very happy for him," he said. "He has been the face of the Hurricanes, and we will miss him. The fact we've built such an exceptional organization is a testament to how good he was at his job.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's one of the best general managers in the League. This is a great opportunity for him."
Morehouse echoed those sentiments at the press conference Friday.
"Jim is one of the most respected executives in the National Hockey League," he said. "He also exemplifies class and dignity. We started identifying candidates for the GM position a few weeks ago and we knew he was someone we needed to talk to."
Rutherford said he thinks the Penguins are close to the level reached during their 2009 Stanley Cup championship run, but he feels changes are necessary.
That mentality led to the decision to fire Bylsma, who guided the Penguins to the Metropolitan Division title this season and the second best record in the Eastern Conference. However, they blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round against the New York Rangers and lost in Game 7 at home.
It marked the fifth straight season the Penguins have lost in the postseason to a lower-seeded team.
Bylsma was informed of his dismissal Friday morning. Rutherford complimented Bylsma and said he is sure Bylsma will receive another opportunity to coach soon.
"What the ownership wants here is a complete change in direction, one with the general manager and one with the coach," Rutherford said. "The timing of it was good because he's a good man and a good coach. I really don't know him very well and I only just talked to him very briefly this morning, but the timing is good because there are coaching vacancies."
Bylsma is the winningest coach in team history. He led the Penguins to a 252-117-32 record in 401 regular-season games in parts of six seasons and won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's best coach in 2011. The Penguins never finished lower than second in their division during Bylsma's tenure.
He replaced Michel Therrien midway through the 2008-09 season and led Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup. Bylsma is 43-35 in 78 playoff games but 27-27 since winning the Cup.
Rutherford said the Penguins might not have a coach in place by the 2014 NHL Draft, which starts June 27, but will by the start of free agency.
"The coach is going to have to adjust to the style of players that we have," Rutherford said. "With the talent level of the Penguins, the Penguins can play whatever way you want. But certainly, with the teams that we ultimately have to compete with, we're going to have to have a coach that can make the proper adjustments during a game or during a certain period of time during the regular season or during a playoff series.
"Obviously the Penguins can go and they can score and they can score in bunches, but based on looking at the Penguins from a distance, because that's where I was, I don't think they could make the proper adjustments against certain teams."
Assistant coaches Tony Granato, Jacques Martin and Todd Reirden, along with goaltending coach Mike Bales, have been given permission to look for jobs elsewhere during the search for a coach, but also are welcome to remain with Pittsburgh, Rutherford said.
Further changes will include Pittsburgh's attempt to improve its bottom-six forward group, which hindered the Penguins throughout the regular season, and a need to create a more vocal locker room, Rutherford said.
Rutherford also said he'll be introducing analytics into the Penguins organization.
"The analytics, if used properly, are great to really check everybody's opinion," he said. "I'm not going to make my final decision, like they do in baseball, just based on analytics. I'm going to make a gut decision when it comes time to calling players up or making player trades. But I do think this is something we need to get up to speed on.
"I am going to add somebody into the organization in the next few weeks to put this together for us."
Rutherford also promoted Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin to assistant GM. Fitzgerald had been assistant to the GM and Guerin was the player development coach. Rutherford plans on utilizing Guerin in a similar way to how he used Ron Francis with the Hurricanes, because Guerin "knows how the players tick" and can relate to them.
Rutherford played 13 seasons as a goalie in the NHL, including parts of three seasons with Pittsburgh from 1971-74. He said the city has changed since his time with the Penguins, but its quality is one reason he decided to return.
"One thing hasn't changed from Pittsburgh, and I always see this when I visit Pittsburgh, and that's why I’m excited about being back, is the people are great. The people are very friendly," Rutherford said. "It's the thing I remembered from long ago from when I played here. … As for the team, obviously the Penguins changed dramatically when they drafted Mario, and then Mario retired and then they got Sidney [Crosby] and [Evgeni] Malkin.
"To have the star power for a market like this I think is great and makes the team excited. It makes people want to watch it and give you a chance to win a championship."