Rutherford had a clear vision from the moment he took over the position ahead of the 2014-15 season, and orchestrated plenty of moves with both players and personnel to make it come to fruition. Rutherford made the playoffs every year he was in Pittsburgh, led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017 and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019.
"I want to personally thank Jim Rutherford for everything that he's done for the Pittsburgh Penguins," Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said in a video call with the media. "He won two consecutive Cups here, a feat that I don't think will be replicated anytime soon in this salary cap era."
And Rutherford's many contributions go far beyond those two Stanley Cups. As Morehouse put it, Rutherford is a great friend and teammate, who made sure there was never a divide between the hockey and business sides of the organization. While he exudes grace and professionalism, he is also playful and mischievous and was beloved by players, coaches, team staff, media and fans alike for his personality, transparency and track record.
"He's in the fabric of the community, a true Pittsburgher," Morehouse said. "The personal relationships he's made within the organization, within the hockey world, and even in the grocery store - people are constantly coming up to me and telling me they ran into Jim and what a good guy he is. Jim just brought a certain class and dignity to the Penguins that are reminiscent of who we want to be."
Morehouse said the decision was not health-related, and that Rutherford is perfectly healthy. The two of them talked Tuesday night, and Morehouse said Rutherford had his mind made up.
"I know it's a little unusual to have this happen during a season, but just felt this was the right time to step away," Rutherford, 71, said in a statement. "It has been a great honor to serve as general manager of the Penguins, and to hang two more Stanley Cup banners at PPG Paints Arena.
"I have so many people to thank, beginning with the owners, Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, and Morehouse. There always has been so much support from everyone involved with the Penguins, both on the hockey and business staffs, and, of course, from a special group of players led by Sidney Crosby. The fans here have been tremendous to me and my family."
The search for a new GM, which will be conducted by Burkle, Lemieux and Morehouse, has already begun. Morehouse said he is not putting a timeframe on it, but that he has already received calls.
In the meantime, Patrik Allvin - who was named assistant general manager in November - has been promoted to interim general manager and is now the first Swedish-born GM in NHL history. Allvin will have full authority in the role, along with the ability to consult Lemieux for input and advice.
"Mario's had some experience around this stuff, so I think we'll be okay in that area," Morehouse said with a laugh.
Allvin, 46, first joined the Penguins organization as a scout for the 2006-07 season. He served as head of amateur scouting from 2017-20 before getting promoted to assistant GM and now interim GM. The Penguins think incredibly highly of Allvin for his work ethic, hockey knowledge and positive attitude.
"Patrik Allvin has been with the organization for 15 years," Morehouse said. "He has progressed pretty quickly through the ranks, becoming the head of amateur scouting and now assistant general manager this year. Very smart and very well-respected in the hockey community."
Morehouse said that Allvin will be considered among the candidates. When it comes to what the Penguins are looking for in their next general manager, Morehouse said the criteria is the same as it's been since the Sidney Crosby era began.
"It's to win the Stanley Cup," Morehouse said. "So we're looking for someone that's going to be able to come in, take over a very talented team with a very good coaching staff, and take it as far as they can take it. It's the criteria we had when we brought Jim in, and we hold the same criteria as we bring the next general manager in."
The biggest factor in Rutherford's hiring was his experience and reputation as a strong and steady leader. He had spent the previous 20 years as GM of the Hartford/Carolina organization, going to two Stanley Cup Finals and winning it all in 2006. But the Penguins also loved his youthful, forward-thinking and progressive mindset.
With the Penguins in win-now mode, they want someone who strikes a similar balance.
"Jim always thought outside the box," Morehouse said. "He was one of the first general managers I know that was looking at analytics. That was what we were looking for then, and now, we're looking for something similar. We're going to do a careful analysis of people who are interested. We're going to look at people who we think fit into the Penguins mold and into our model, and then we're going to make the hire when we find that."
Morehouse referenced the Miami of Ohio football program's reputation as the "Cradle of Coaches" when talking about Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, saying it's a cradle of coaches and general managers. But while Morehouse acknowledged that it would be nice to hire someone with previous or current ties to the organization, that isn't necessarily a requirement.
"We have a wide berth of people that have had experience with us, and I think it's important, but it's not necessary," Morehouse said. "It's who the person is. As I said about Jim, someone with dignity, class, who thinks outside of the box, that thinks to win, and is trying to make things happen."
And Morehouse couldn't be more grateful to Rutherford for doing just that in his tenure here.
"He has been an amazing representative of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he'll always have a special place in our team's history," Morehouse said.