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Jim Rutherford and David Morehouse Transcript: 6-6-14

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

New Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford and president/CEO David Morehouse addressed the media this afternoon. Here is the full transcript...

David Morehouse: Good afternoon. Thanks for coming on such short notice. On behalf of our owners, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, I’m pleased to announce that the new General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins is Jim Rutherford. Jim is one of the most respected executives in the National Hockey League. He led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006 and twice was named NHL General Manager of the Year. He also exemplifies class and dignity. When we started identifying candidates for our GM position a few weeks ago, we knew he was someone we needed to talk to.

We had the chance to speak to many outstanding hockey people in this process. We had an original list of 30; we talked to 22. We brought nine into Pittsburgh and then we brought four back as finalists. There were some really good candidates in the mix, but Jim Rutherford, his resume is tough to top. Ron and I got together and determined this week that Jim was the man for this job and we’re very lucky that he said yes. This certainly isn’t a rebuild, we have not had the success in the playoffs we’ve wanted over the last five seasons, but this is a very good team with star players and a good organization and lots of important pieces in place.

It became clear to ownership that Jim’s experience and reputation as a strong and steady leader made him the clear choice for what we have to accomplish. His vision for the Penguins both in the near future and moving forward was something that very much impressed us. He flew into Pittsburgh yesterday, met with Mario and our executive team, signed his contract and now he is ready to go. With that, I’d like to introduce to you the new General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jim Rutherford.

Jim Rutherford: Thank you. Thank you David. Thank you to Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle for giving me this opportunity. I’m very excited about it. It’s a great opportunity. I’m excited about working with Sidney Crosby and “Geno” Malkin and all the talented players that are around the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. This is a job that most GMs would like to have and I was very lucky and very fortunate at this point in my career that I’ve been given this opportunity. Before I go on I do want to thank Peter Karmanos, who is the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, very close friend of mine and he was just a great boss to me for 30 years, almost 31 years. For anyone who’s wondering whether I’m thinking about staying 31 years in Pittsburgh, probably not, but 31 years was a long run with one person certainly in professional sports. And I’d also like to thank Ronnie Francis, who has become a close friend of mine and the new General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes and I know he’s going to do a terrific job there.

This all happened very quickly. On Saturday of last week, I came in to meet with Mario and Ron and David and that whole thing transpired really in a couple of days. I got a phone call, I was sitting on my back porch, I think it was on Thursday, from David wondering what I was doing, what my real position was with the Hurricanes and whether I’d consider coming and running another NHL team. And obviously the fact that it was the Pittsburgh Penguins, it didn’t take me long to say yes. He said that he had to get permission from my owner, so he did and I came in on Saturday. We had the opportunity to discuss a lot of things. It was a great meeting, we exchanged ideas. Really, more importantly for me was what was going on here and what ideas are coming from ownership, and so giving them some thought, I left on Saturday and they said that they’d get back to me. And I got a call on Thursday afternoon and about five minutes after I walked out of the dermatologist, as you can see I’ve been beat up a little by the dermatologist here. So it’s like the way life goes, the timing is not always ideal, but he wondered if I could come in the next day and get more serious about this discussion. And so I did and here we are today.

With the information that I took from ownership and with the understanding of what has taken place here, we determined that it was time to go in a different direction with the coach. What the ownership wants here is a complete change in direction, one with the general manager and one with the coach. So we met with Dan (Bylsma) this morning and told him and the timing of it was good because he is a good man and a good coach. I really don’t know him very well and I only talked to him briefly this morning, but the timing is good because there are coaching vacancies and it is not going to be long until he coaches again in the league.

Going forward, I’m looking forward to restructuring the organization a little bit, I think there’s a lot of good people here and I think there’s a few guys that aren’t far away from being general managers in this league. And so I’m going to appoint Jason Botterill to be my Associate General Manager. He will work very close with me on all matters and his input is going to be taken very seriously. Also, I want to promote Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald to be Assistant General Managers. Billy plays a really key role as I understand some of the things now that are going on. I don’t understand everything, I don’t understand it completely I really have to get around the players and get training camp going and get into the season a little bit, but Billy wasn’t long ago since he was a player, he understands what makes these players tick and he’s going to be my day-to-day guy that really communicates with the players and is around the players a lot more in the room to understand if we have an issue at a certain time or if everything is going fine because when there’s issues, I like to get on top of it and deal directly with it myself.

I’m also going to bring analytics into the organization. I don’t think we’re up to speed here on the use of analytics and this is something that I’ve gotten used to over the last few years. The analytics, if used properly, are great to really check everybody’s opinion. I am not going to make my final opinion like they do in baseball just based on analytics. I’m going to make a gut decision when it comes down to calling players up or making player trades, but I do think that this is something that we have to get up to speed on and I am going to add somebody into the organization in the next few weeks to put this together for us.

I’m very grateful for this opportunity. It’s really a dream job for most general managers and I have had a very blessed hockey career. I’ve played for a long time in the league and I was fortunate to play as a Penguin and I’ve had a long run as a general manager and I know that my experience in dealing with things will allow this organization to get to its ultimate goal. I don’t think we have all the pieces here to get back to where the Penguins were in ’09, but with some changes — they don’t have to be sweeping changes — we can do this in the very near future. We’ll open up for questions.

Your team missed the playoffs for five years in Carolina, what do you think the reasons were for that? What do you bring from that experience of trying to get this team over the hump of qualifying, not being good enough for ownership? Also, you mentioned complete change of direction with the GM, coach and also promoted three people who were part of Ray Shero’s inner circle to new positions. Why that decision if they weren’t going to be changed?

Rutherford: Well when I say complete change, it’s really the main decision makers and as you saw, I didn’t address the assistant coaching staff. One thing I have done with that is given them permission to talk to other teams if they wish, but if they wish to not move on immediately until a head coach is announced, they are more than welcome to do that. The head coach will make that decision, who his assistants are. As for the Hurricanes missing (the playoffs) over the last five years, I mean I have reasons for what they were. Certainly our goaltending issues over the last couple years were key. You know for the most part we played right down to the stretch — right down to the last game some seasons before not making it. We’ve had competitive teams there. But clearly the business model between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins is different and you’ve been around long enough to figure out what I’m saying. I have nothing but respect for the Hurricanes and the growth of hockey in Carolina and I think they are on the right track so for me to start picking at different players and what not doesn’t make sense.

First on the head coaching hire, whenever that is made, what kind of candidate type do you look for, type of coaching style, those sorts of things. And David, I don’t know if I can ask you at this point or not but I know you explained the thought process with keeping Dan around. Do you regret the way that it played out this morning since it played out so quickly now after the hiring?

Morehouse: We talked about that when we talked about Ray. No, we wanted to systematically look at the whole organization from top to bottom. We didn’t want to make hasty decisions. We went through a process over the course of three weeks and we came to a conclusion. We don’t regret anything. We actually had a very thorough process, as I said before. We talked to over 22 people, we looked at 30 different resumes, we talked to people about people internally about what was going on about the organization. We talked to people about what they thought we needed in order to make the organization better. I think that through that process is how we got to where we are today and I think that it’s a good place where we are today.

Rutherford: I have a short list of coaches in mind. The coach is going to have to adjust to the style of players we have because with the talent level of the Penguins, the Penguins can play however we want, but with the teams that we have to compete with, we are going to have to make the proper adjustments during the game, the regular season, or a playoff series. Obviously the Penguins can score, and score in bunches. But looking at the Penguins, obviously from a distance, because that’s where I was, I don’t think they can make the proper adjustments against certain teams, and that will be a key factor in what I will be looking for in a head coach. And then it’s going to be important to the chemistry, if the head coach is a certain way, we may need to exit those guys, have a motivator as an assistant coach, but we have to get a good mix of people.

How important is the timeline of (hiring) the coaching staff before free agency begins? Also, are you completely comfortable that you have complete control with every hockey move?

Rutherford: I am completely comfortable with my position and that I have complete control. I am a guy who likes to communicate and I will have full communication with the executives, Mario and the board. That was one thing that I talked about, was that he’s not here a lot, (so) how do you deal with the owner? I deal with the owner the way he wants me to. If he wants to talk to me he will call me, so that’s not an issue. I’m very comfortable with the control I have to make the decision(s). (We want to have a new head coach in place) not necessarily by the draft, but certainly by the time free agency comes. Now, free agency this year for the Penguins might not be as exciting because we’re up against the cap. But we’re looking at free agency as a way to make some changes on the team.

Did you feel as if the decision on Dan Bylsma was made when you took the job, and if not, was it your recommendation that he be fired?

Rutherford: I took the information from the people that were here. I didn't have several meetings with Dan to get to know him and evaluate him or take his side of the story. So the answer to your question is that I took the information over the last week with the couple of meetings I had, and we agreed that making a change was the right thing to do.

You mentioned (Sidney Crosby) and (Evgeni Malkin), but can you elaborate on reasons why at this point of your career this was the right opportunity for you?

Rutherford: Five weeks ago I decided to step down with the Hurricanes. I did both jobs (president and general manager) there and it became very difficult over the last two or three years. It really wore on me. And when I stepped down, I stepped down willing to move away further from the game, but still be a little bit involved; but with an open mind that if somebody called me that I would consider going somewhere if I felt I had a chance to win a championship. I have one Stanley Cup, I have two Eastern Conference trophies, but there's no feeling, as everyone in here knows, like winning the ultimate prize. I believe we can do it here. So you have to have top players, you have to have key players, you have to have goaltending, you have to have coaching, you have to have all those things. And my job now is to come in and change some of those things that we need to strengthen in order to get to the end.

(Hurricanes owner/CEO) Peter Karmanos was quoted as saying you did a wonderful job helping to mentor Ron Francis for his position, and you could do the same here. Is that the plan in place for yourself and the associate and assistant GMs? And then in regards to the analytics, how do you plan to use them on a day-to-day basis, or how did you use them in Carolina?

Rutherford: I feel that we have two or three guys here that are very close to becoming general managers. What I will do is give them big roles and a lot to say, and a lot of input in my final decisions. But at the same time, I know that I'm mentoring them. Nobody knows what's going to happen, but I would suppose that this term for me is probably two or three years here and it's going to be up to the ownership as to who replaces me. But certainly I will get to know these guys better and I will recommend what goes on in the future. Especially Jason (Botterill). He's been here for a long time; he's a very bright guy. He knows the game. I know that he's getting very close.

The analytics are very interesting if you do it properly. It's not like baseball. Baseball is an individual sport and you can either hit the ball or you can't, or you can pitch the ball a certain way or you can't. Hockey is a team sport. When you're using those analytics, there are things that analytics are going to point out to you that your hockey people don't see. So I take those points, whether it's good or bad with a player, and then I go back and start questioning the hockey people — are we not seeing this? The analytics aren't always right, and we're not always right. It's a great sounding board, really. Being a guy that's been around as long as I have, some people are probably surprised that I use analytics. But I've used them for a few years now, and I can tell you that it really makes a difference.

You were here in the early 1970s. Pittsburgh was a much different city. Could you say how you've seen this city change as a hockey market or as a city overall? And the other thing would be your vision of what a team needs to be to win a Stanley Cup. You hear all different kinds of things about different systems, rolling four lines versus three lines, all kinds of things. I'm curious about your vision.

Rutherford: The one thing hasn't changed (about) Pittsburgh, and I always see this when I visit Pittsburgh and that's one thing I'm excited about being back, is that the people are great. The people are very friendly. That's the thing I remembered from long ago when I played here. As for the city, obviously the downtown has changed, a lot of things have changed. As for the team, obviously the Penguins changed dramatically when they drafted Mario (Lemieux), and then Mario retired and they got Sidney (Crosby) and they got (Evgeni) Malkin. To have the star power for a market like this I think is great. And it makes the team exciting, it makes people want to watch it and it gives you a chance to win a championship. In my opinion, one of the key things for a team to win a Stanley Cup is you have to be really strong down the middle. And we have a really good head start at that. Do you play in a series that you roll four lines? It depends how many injuries you have, it depends what team you're playing, it depends how good the fourth line they have is. I will say that our supporting cast has to be improved. I look at our fourth line players and some of those guys are in double-digit minuses. You can't have that. You have to have energy on your fourth line, you have to have penalty killers, and you certainly have to have guys that are capable of playing defensively and not costing you that much on goals against. Like I said, the key is down the middle, and we've got a great start.

You talk about Bill Guerin's role as being a day-to-day guy that really communicates with the players. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? Have you had a guy that's filled this role previously in your career? How basically does that work?

Rutherford: (Ron Francis) did it with us for a few years. A lot of times, the communication with the players, it wasn't me going directly to a player. It would be ‘Ronnie.’ They had a trust level with him. It's the same with Bill. Not long ago he was a player. I would suspect here that the players like him. It becomes a trust level. But if you're going to deal with issues, not that the players are going to make decisions or run the team, but they have to speak up. They may have a personal problem going on, they may not be feeling good. There's so many things that happen that we all forget about when we watch a player play for a month and say 'What's wrong with this guy?' Well, there's usually a reason. Having a guy around the players a little bit more that's not the boss I think makes it easier for the players to communicate.

David, at any point did you or Mario or Ron offer the job or a contract to anybody other than the gentleman (Rutherford) standing next to you?

Morehouse: No. Absolutely not.

Jim, Mario and Ron talked a lot about grit and character a couple weeks ago. When you look particularly at the Penguins top two lines or even the forwards as a whole, what do you see? You mentioned seeing things from afar. What do you see in terms of that area specifically, grit and character? And how would you address it as GM?

Rutherford: Well, I see the top-six guys as very talented players, but from a character point of view, or leadership point of view, I really don’t know until I get through training camp and into the season – a month or so or up to Thanksgiving, give it a little time. Looking at it from the outside, I suspect that we have good character in that room, but it’s quiet. It’s a quiet approach where you don’t have one or two guys that can stand up in the room and say you know, this is what’s really going on. From a character point of view, I don’t think there’s an issue, but to have somebody or a couple of guys that are a little more vocal, I suspect that that’s probably needed.

Jim, you were part of the ownership in Carolina, how does that work in terms of are you already removed from that or are you in the process of removing yourself from that? You don’t get an ownership stake for this, right?

Rutherford: Well, I have a conflict right now because I have an ownership stake with the Hurricanes in which I invested my own money. (Hurricanes owner/CEO) Pete Karmanos has an executive meeting with the league on Tuesday and he’s going to get a clarification on that. I am going to suspect that the league is going you say you can’t do that. Which is fine with me, getting my money back (smiles).

David, how much of the interview process helped the internal candidates land their new positions?

Morehouse: Yes, we said we were going to talk to them, the internal candidates – we didn’t talk about any of the external candidates. So, yes, we did talk to them. And yes, they were very seriously considered and their body of work speaks for itself. They are both really good people, they are both going to make very good general managers. We thought long and hard about it until a couple of days ago. So it was very well thought out. And someone of Jim’s credentials and his reputation, we’ve seen him in Board of Governor’s meetings, we’ve watched him operate. Mario knows him. We were very interested in having someone like Jim Rutherford interested in coming into Pittsburgh and helping us. We’re even more fortunate that we have people like Tom Fitzgerald and Jason Botterill and Bill Guerin around him to help him. I think we’ve put a very strong team together of the utmost character and capabilities.

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