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Five Questions: Rutherford on life with one franchise

by Dan Rosen periodically will be doing a series called "Five Questions With …," a Q&A with some of the key movers and shakers in the game today aimed to gain some insight into their lives and careers.

This edition features Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford:

Only Lou Lamoriello can say he's seen more games as the general manager of his franchise than Jim Rutherford has with his.

Rutherford arrived in North Carolina with the Hurricanes in 1997, three years after he took over as the president, GM and part owner of the franchise when it was known as the Hartford Whalers. He has been Carolina's steady hand ever since.

Rutherford has overseen the evolution of the Hurricanes from an infant in a non-traditional hockey market, playing its home games 90 minutes away from the center of its fan base in Greensboro, N.C., to a thriving, Stanley Cup-winning franchise located in the state's capital city, boasting a strong following and an abundance of young, talented, marketable players.

"Cory Stillman is now with us, and Jeff Daniels. So the game changes all the time, and if you're not willing to change with the game, it probably makes it harder to stay in the League. I've been fortunate that I've been able to hire those types of people that have a lot of input on what takes place with the team." -- Jim Rutherford

He is the second-longest tenured general manager in the NHL behind only Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils, and one of the leading voices in the industry.

Rutherford lent his voice to for our ongoing Q&A series, dishing on last season's hiring of coach Kirk Muller and firing of good friend Paul Maurice, his thoughts on the Raleigh market, his own longevity, and strange-but-true and memorable incidents he's witnessed.

Here are Five Questions With … Jim Rutherford:

What did you see from Kirk Muller last season that has you convinced he was the right choice to replace Paul Maurice as coach?

"Accountability. It was a key point when he came. It's not something we talked about prior to him coming, but when he got here and he dealt with the players, I know there were times when he would call players in in-between periods to his office. He didn't let things go for a long period of time. He would sit them down and try to point out how they could make a difference the very next period. The accountability factor is key to his success. It's not that accountability was lacking, but he did it in a different way and it worked."

Speaking of Paul Maurice, who is now coaching in the KHL, it is widely known that you guys go back a while and are close, so how difficult was the conversation you had with him when you told him you had to make a coaching change, and how challenging is it when the personal side of this interferes with the business side?

"It's difficult regardless whether it's a friend or just an associate, but Paul and I were always able to separate the personal side and the work side. Funny, for us being as close as we were, during the course of the season we really didn't visit each other at each other's houses, and even when we were on the road I didn't go out to dinner on a regular basis with the coaches. We always separated that. Paul and I, because we're so close, we have a very good understanding of how this business works and he understood that that day would come at some time. It's difficult, but we totally understand."

When moving from Hartford to Carolina, were you concerned about the market and how viable it would be for an NHL team?


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"I was concerned that we weren't starting in our actual city, and as that turned out that proved to be accurate that that was probably going to make things difficult. And I was concerned about the length of time that it would take coming into a non-traditional hockey market, but it wasn't that we expected this to be an instant success like we were moving a team into Canada, back into Winnipeg. It was more about building the market, because we knew what a great market it was and it was going to have great growth from people moving here from hockey cities. As that's turned out it's been a good, steady process and now we're at the point where we have a young team -- we have to compete and be a good team on a consistent basis to build our revenues up. We're never going to catch up with the big markets, but we have to continue to build our revenues. That's the point we're at now.

"I didn't have any years in mind as to when all these things would take place. We didn't have a goal in mind of winning the Cup in 2006 when we moved here, or going to the [Stanley Cup] Final in 2002. But certainly we understood that it was going to be a process, and the good thing is we have a strong owner that understood that, was patient and has watched this grow into a viable franchise."

With the longevity you have had as the GM of the Hurricanes, formerly the Whalers, what do you do to stay current in today's ever-changing NHL with the various types of new philosophies and out-of-the-box thinkers in key positions?

"I hire former character players, and they don't all have to be star players. I've been very fortunate here to have strong leadership with the players we brought in, guys like Ron Francis, Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley. We have seven or eight former players working with us. Cory Stillman is now with us, and Jeff Daniels. So the game changes all the time, and if you're not willing to change with the game, it probably makes it harder to stay in the League. I've been fortunate that I've been able to hire those types of people that have a lot of input on what takes place with the team."

Tell me the strangest thing you've experienced or witnessed in all your time in Carolina?

"I'm not sure I can tell you that on the record.

"The fact of the matter is in the early going we had a number of strange things. One example was our opening night, you always try to do it up, and we had the unfortunate issue with part of the pregame show where the mascot was in the Zamboni and it just didn't turn out right -- it was actually a scary moment.

"I guess maybe in the playoffs in 1999, we were playing the Bruins and there was a big turning point in the game where Martin Gelinas had a whole open net and he double-hit the puck. He shot the puck and clearly it was going straight in the net and he double hit it on the follow through and changed the course of the puck and it didn't go in.

"I can tell you about airplane trips where the charter plane didn't work out. We were standing on the tarmac in Florida waiting for the plane to come get us and we finally got into New Jersey after 5 in the morning and had to play the next night. We had played the previous night and they didn't play. Paul Maurice came to me and said, 'How are we going to get through this game?' I said, 'Tell your goalie to stop everything.' He said, 'But it's the backup goalie.' I told him, 'Well, tell the backup goalie to stop everything.' You know what, he did. We beat New Jersey 1-0.

"There are so many things. If I sat with you over a beer I could tell you 50 of them, but that's the best I can tell you right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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