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Trade Coverage

Jim Rutherford reflects on Trade Deadline madness

Penguins general manager has experienced both sides

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford knows as well as anyone what it means to a player to change teams at NHL Trade Deadline. In 1981, the former goaltender was one of 22 players packaged in the 12 trades that year, three hours after he'd been told he wasn't going anywhere.

Rutherford was 10 games from the end of an NHL career that from 1970-71 through 1982-83 saw him play 457 games for the Detroit Red Wings (in three tours of duty), Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings.

It was deadline day on March 10, 1981, and unbeknownst to Rutherford, he had played his last of 18 games for the Maple Leafs.

"We had a practice at Maple Leaf Gardens that ended around noon and (coach) Mike Nykoluk called us all to center ice and said, 'It's now past 12 o'clock, and this is our team. There won't be any trades,'" Rutherford said. "I stayed on the ice a little bit, showered, had lunch and went home. The phone rang at 3 o'clock, and it was (Maple Leafs GM) Punch Imlach calling to say, 'You've just been traded to Los Angeles.' I said, 'I thought the deadline had passed,' and he said, 'It's noon in Los Angeles and we made the deal.'

 

READ: NHL Trade Tracker

 

"The deadline now is 3 p.m. Eastern time. Then, it was 12 noon local time."

Rutherford was traded for future considerations, which wound up being the Kings' fifth-round selection in the 1981 NHL Draft. The pick would be Barry Brigley, who never played an NHL game.

"I was at the end of my career," Rutherford said. "I knew I was bouncing around and certainly well on the downside of my playing [career]. I was fine with going to L.A., I was just surprised because I didn't think it could happen at that time of the day."

Rutherford had begun his career with the Red Wings in 1970-71, the 10th pick in the first round of the 1969 NHL Draft. He would be claimed by the Penguins in the 1971 Intra-League Draft, traded back to Detroit in Jan. 1974, then traded to Toronto in Dec. 1980.

Rutherford went 3-0 down the stretch with the 1980-81 Kings, two of those games at home. He also played the third period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round, relieving Mario Lessard in a 10-3 road shellacking by the New York Rangers.

Rutherford would see action in seven games during the 1981-82 season, going 3-3. The Kings would send him to New Haven of the American Hockey League, leaving him to sign in Sept. 1982 as a free agent with Detroit once more. Rutherford played one more NHL game, torched for seven goals in a 7-0 November road loss to the Boston Bruins.

The native of Beeston, Ontario would find greater success and fame in hockey management. He cut his teeth as an award-winning executive with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey in the late 1980s, graduating to the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes front office to serve as GM from 1994-2014 and steer the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship.

Rutherford has seen more than his share of trade deadline madness, tuning out the white noise of around-the-clock television, radio and Internet coverage.

"I really don't know what they're saying," he said with a chuckle of the media overload. "I don't follow that, it's what we have to do from within. I know the shows get great ratings and they're great for the fans, but what's happened of late and what looks like is going to happen this year is you're getting a number of trades being made before deadline day, which doesn't make the day itself quite as exciting as it was a few years ago. If teams left it until the final day, one or two teams could jump in and scoop the deal on you, so nobody is going to take that chance."

The NHL's trade mechanics, combined with the media insiders who have embedded contacts, have had an impact on team management.

"Information from NHL trade calls goes to the NHLPA and a few other places, and it seems that word often gets out before we can tell the player," Rutherford said. "That is the toughest feeling for myself or any general manager or organization -- players finding this out somewhere other than directly from the team. That's not a very good feeling."

Rutherford prefers to engineer his trades before the deadline, "so I'm not scrambling as much." He says that trades made in years that end with Stanley Cup championships are his most memorable.

He points to the Penguins' acquisition of Justin Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers two days before the 2016 deadline.

"He became a solid player for us and has become an even better player this year," Rutherford said.

In 2006 in Carolina, he recalls, "the big name out there the whole year was going to be [Doug] Weight. Everybody talked that he'd be the guy who'd get the most attention on deadline day. I made that deal with St. Louis (on Jan. 30, 2006), long before the deadline. Then we traded for Mark Recchi (of Pittsburgh) on deadline day that year. So I added Weight and Recchi to that '06 team, which brought in two good players and veteran leadership and really helped get Carolina over the hump to win the Cup in '06."

This week, Rutherford said, he's mostly interested in getting his Penguins rested and healthy for the run to the playoffs.

"But I'm going to stay in the mix here," the Pittsburgh GM said. "If a certain player comes along for the right price, you never know."

And if he does, a former goalie in a management suite need worry about only a single deadline, not one that will come three hours later on the West Coast.

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