CRANBERRY, Pa. - After two years of roster upheaval, it was almost ironic that re-signing general manager Jim Rutherford was the Pittsburgh Penguins' most prominent move when free agency opened Friday.
Rutherford, 67, who was named General Manager of the Year at the 2016 NHL Awards, signed a three-year contract that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2018-19 season.
"I'm very pleased to be staying on longer," Rutherford said. "I've grown to even like Pittsburgh more than what I thought when I first got here. I knew it was a great place to be. My wife and my son love it here. It's turned out to be really good and I'm with the best organization in the League. We have great ownership with Mario [Lemieux] and Ron [Burkle]. They give us great leadership all the time and provide the resources that we need to be successful."
Rutherford has overseen a near-complete roster rebuild in his two seasons, without touching Pittsburgh's core, including forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.
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In his first personnel move as Penguins GM on June 27, 2014, Rutherford traded for right wing Patric Hornqvist from the Nashville Predators.
Last season, Rutherford acquired right wing Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015. He also traded for defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, and forward Carl Hagelin.
Those moves, combined with the additions of forwards Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr, shaped a fast, aggressive Penguins team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Rutherford, who was general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, became the first GM in the post-1967 expansion era to manage multiple teams to Stanley Cup championships.
"We're here to talk about the most important signing on signing day," Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said. "We're very fortunate to have signed a new extension with Jim Rutherford, our general manager. … We're very excited about Jim signing his extension. I said this two years ago when we signed him the first time, we're very fortunate that he's even interested in coming to Pittsburgh.
"He's exactly the kind of person we need here with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he proved it in two years. Everything that Jim said he was going to do from the first interview when we talked to him, he's accomplished."
Pittsburgh's surge to its championship through the second half of the season didn't impact Rutherford's decision to stay.
"Before we even got going in December, David and I were starting to talk a little bit about it," Rutherford said. "So obviously when you win, you feel a lot better about it. But I think at one point during the season, maybe in December, I had already decided I was going to stay on longer."
Rutherford said his working relationship with coach Mike Sullivan, whom he hired to replace Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, has made his job more enjoyable.
"[The relationship with Sullivan] made it a lot easier," Rutherford said. "I knew him a little bit before we hired him. Obviously I know him a lot better now. Everybody knows what an incredible job he did and what a terrific coach he is. But I got to know first-hand what a terrific guy he is."
When he was hired June 6, 2014, Rutherford said he intended to hold the position for two-to-three years while mentoring possible future general managers. He continues to mold associate general manager Jason Botterill and assistant general manager Bill Guerin, but has not ruled out staying in Pittsburgh beyond his extension.
Rutherford said he expects members of his staff to become NHL general managers in the future, and understands an opportunity for any of them could arise over the next few years.
"You really don't know," Rutherford said. "We've never held anybody back if they get an opportunity. We'll just have to see where that goes. I have very good guys that I work with. It makes it a lot easier for my job."
The first contract Rutherford signed with the Penguins was supposed to be his last as a GM. But now he's not sure what the future could hold.
"It's hard to say," Rutherford said. "I mean, when I stepped down in Carolina, I thought that was it. Then I came here for a couple years, and now it's a few more years. You know, for a lot of years people have asked me, 'How long are you going to do this?' Most of those people that asked me, I've outlasted them all. So you guys better be careful asking me."