Jim Rutherford Jan 19

VANCOUVER -- Jim Rutherford signed a three-year contract to remain president of hockey operations of the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

His current contract was set to expire after this season. The new contract runs through 2026-27 season.

Rutherford, who will turn 75 on Feb. 17, will continue to lead what has been an impressive turnaround this season for the team he joined a little over two years ago. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs his first two seasons in Vancouver -- and Vancouver missing in seven of the past eight overall -- the Canucks entered Friday leading the NHL with 64 points (30-11-4).

"When I first came here, one of the things I said is, we have some players that are probably better than people think, and now this has come to light," Rutherford said Friday. "We have a good system and the impact players are even more impactful than they've ever been in their careers here in Vancouver, and I'm very proud of the guys."

Rutherford has been a driving force behind changes in the front office, led a charge to upgrade the facilities, and altered the roster significantly since being hired in a dual role as president of hockey operations and general manager on Dec. 9, 2021, four days after the team fired general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green, replacing the latter with Bruce Boudreau.

A three-time Stanley Cup champion, one as president and GM of the Carolina Hurricanes (2006) and two as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017), Rutherford is the first president of hockey operations for the Canucks since former team captain Trevor Linden left the job in 2018.

"I've been driven by the challenge," he said. "This is my 42nd year in the National Hockey League and I've had lots of challenges as a player and lots of challenges as a manager. (Owner) Francesco (Aquilini) didn't put any sugar on when he told me what the challenges were going to be here when he was asking me to come to Vancouver. All those challenges were here, and they're still here, and even as the team gets better, and even if the team can have success over a few years, you're always going to have challenges and that's really what my life's been all about. I've dealt with challenges over and over, and that's really what drives me."

Canucks President of Hockey Operations inks extension

Rutherford hired Patrik Allvin as GM on Jan. 27, 2022. Vancouver finished that season 40-30-12, including 32-15-10 under Boudreau, but started 0-5-2 in 2022-23 and eventually Boudreau was replaced with Rick Tocchet on Jan. 22, 2023. The Canucks finished last season 20-12-4 in 36 games with Tocchet, but ended the season 12 points behind the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Now the Canucks lead the NHL with a plus-55 goal differential and have five players -- defenseman Quinn Hughes, goalie Thatcher Demko, and forwards J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser -- headed to the 2024 Honda (U.S.)/ Rogers (Canada) NHL All-Star Game in Toronto, along with Tocchet.

"There were a lot of changes made early on and they weren't fun. I didn't take them lightly," Rutherford said. "With all the changes made, one of the things that I felt was that we didn't have a team. We had a lot of good players, but we didn't have a team. But now we have a team, the players and the coaches have bought into the team concept, and when you have a team that buys into what the system is and you play it, whether you win five in a row or you lose five in a row, you're going to be okay. And that's what this team has done."

Rutherford, a former NHL goalie, came to Vancouver less than a year after resigning as GM of the Penguins for personal reasons after spending seven seasons there from 2014-21. He previously served as president and GM of the Hartford Whalers/Hurricanes from 1994 to 2014.

"We started talking the minute he signed the first contract about extending," Aquilini said. "He came here with a vision and unwavering commitment to make this team competitive again. … Today, we sit here first overall in the league, and have five players and our coach going to the All Star Game. It's fun to be a Vancouver Canucks fan and it's fun to be a Vancouver Canucks player again. Jim's vision, his relentless desire to improve this club, has put us on the right track."

Rutherford arrived in Vancouver with a reputation for being active, including 61 trades in seven seasons as GM of the Penguins, a timeframe that in addition to the two championships, included being voted the General Manager of the Year Award winner for the 2015-16 season, and getting inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder in 2019.

That reputation for embracing change has continued in Vancouver.

The Canucks traded captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders last season, then used the first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft acquired in that deal to acquire defenseman Filip Hronek from the Detroit Red Wings on March 1. They bought out the final four seasons of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson's eight-year contract on June 16, and signed defensemen Carson Soucy (three years) and Ian Cole (one year), and forward Teddy Blueger (one year) on the opening day of free agency July 1.

Vancouver signed center Pius Suter on Aug. 11, traded veteran forward Tanner Pearson to the Montreal Canadiens for backup goalie Casey DeSmith on Sept. 19, then acquired Sam Lafferty from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 8.

They have made four more trades since the season started, including dealing forward Anthony Beauvillier, who was part of the Horvat trade, to the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 28 to free up the NHL salary cap space to acquire defenseman Nikita Zadorov from the Calgary Flames two days later.

Rutherford hinted Friday that the team may not be done making moves ahead of the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline on March 8.

"We've been talking about that for a month now within our hockey operations, trying to decide what we want to do," Rutherford said. "This is what we say in meetings: 'This group of players and coaches deserve the best opportunity they can to compete going forward,' and that's what we talk about every day, and we have to make a decision on."

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