While the start to the Hurricanes’ season is disappointing to any observer, it’s most disappointing to the man who put the team together.
“From the player personnel point of view, I take responsibility for the decisions I made,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford, whose team is off to a 2-8-3 start. “I probably should have gone about this a different way, and I take full responsibility for what’s going on. Now I have to fix it.”
No one faulted the GM for keeping the bulk of last season’s Eastern Conference finalists together, or for bringing in free agents Andrew Alberts, Tom Kostopoulos, Aaron Ward and Stephane Yelle, among others. Rutherford shared the widespread optimism surrounding the team over the summer, but hindsight is 20/20 in the Hurricanes’ current nine-game winless streak.
“You try to re-sign everybody and you re-sign players, and they get in a totally different position in their career than they’ve ever been,” said Rutherford, who re-signed Erik Cole, Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu from last year’s team. “Maybe we should have had a little bigger change. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone with as many veteran players as we did. I don’t have the answers for it, nobody does, and everybody can guess. Obviously, whatever I did didn’t work.”
Rutherford indicated he would like to make changes to his team, but acknowledged that would be difficult given the early stage of the season. Teams looking to add players take on a bigger financial responsibility now than they would at the trade deadline, and many don’t have substantial cap space following recent off-season signings.
One direction Rutherford may take is giving more responsibility to the team’s talented young players in Albany, such as Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk, who have hovered around a point-per-game pace in their first full professional season at the AHL level.
“If we can move certain players, then we can start to transition into the team that we felt we would transition into next year,” said Rutherford. “We do have a lot of good young players now, and I’m not sure that they’re 100 percent ready to play here, but if we’re not going to win with a veteran team then we may as well transition sooner rather than later.”
However, bringing those players up earlier than anticipated remains a concern.
“It’s a little bit of a juggling act,” said Rutherford. “You can just see in the few games that Brandon Sutter has played how much better of a player he is than he was a year ago. He’s played some games now in the minors, and then he comes in here with some confidence. Even as good as he’s played, I still wish he could play more in the minors to give him an even stronger position than where he is today.”
Rutherford didn’t suggest that a movement of any kind was imminent, partly due to the difficulty of making trades in November and partly due to the fact that it’s still early in the season. While he said he’d ideally like to wait until the end of the month for any major shake-up, the team’s play over the next few weeks may force his hand.
“We owe it to our fans every year to be a playoff team, and if I feel that we’re just getting into too deep of a hole then I’ll accelerate it,” he said. “If I still think that this team can turn it around, then we’ll keep going in the direction that we’re going.
“I’ve seen enough to where I’m as disappointed as I’ve ever been in a team,” he added. “I still know that there’s enough here to make that turn, but when you watch what we’ve all watched here in the last week, it makes you wonder if it’s going to turn.”