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Rutherford Fortunate to Have Talented Young Support Staff

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins’ newly announced management team is a terrific blend of veteran experience and promising young talent.

New Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who had spent the last 20 years in that same role with the Carolina/Hartford franchise, will be mentoring a support staff whom he says may not be far away from becoming general managers in this league themselves – Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin.

Rutherford said in addition to them knowing this organization from top to bottom – which is invaluable to somebody coming from the outside – he knew those men were good people who have done a good job here, and wanted to reward them for their work over the years and further them along in their careers.

All three of them were promoted from their previous positions with the Penguins: Botterill is now associate general manager, while Guerin and Fitzgerald have both been promoted to assistant general manager. While their exact duties in their new roles haven’t yet been flushed out, one thing is for certain: Rutherford will be relying on them heavily.

“What I will do is give them big roles and a lot of say, and a lot of input in my final decisions,” Rutherford said. “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. 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.”

In five seasons as assistant GM, Botterill oversaw salary cap management, contract negotiation and scouting while serving as GM of the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Botterill played the game at a high level. He was a first-round draft pick of the

Dallas Stars in 1994 and played four seasons at the University of Michigan, where he led the Wolverines to the NCAA title in 1996. But what makes him so special is that while he has the hockey knowledge, he’s got the business side down as well.

After his playing days were over, Botterill returned to Michigan to earn his MBA and has since built a reputation as a salary cap whiz with his knowledge, understanding and avant-garde approach.

“He will work very close with me on all matters and his input is going to be taken very seriously,” Rutherford said.

Fitzgerald, 45, spent the last five seasons as Penguins assistant to the general manager. He monitored Penguins prospects playing in college, junior hockey, Europe and with WBS, and advised former GM Ray Shero on personnel decisions. He previously served as director of player development and was an assistant coach when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

The relationships he’s built with every prospect is a huge asset, as is his experience in different roles throughout the organization and in 1,097 career NHL games as a player. Fitzgerald was a versatile player, and he’s a versatile member of the hockey ops staff as well.

Both Botterill and Fitzgerald interviewed for the GM position, and president/CEO David Morehouse said “they were very seriously considered and their body of work speaks for itself. They are both really good people and they are both going to make very good general managers.”

Guerin is the unique, exciting promotion that the Penguins made. After retiring less than four years ago following 18 NHL seasons with eight teams, including the Penguins (with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2009), he was hired as player development coach and assisted the organization’s young players and prospects. Now, he’ll be working with the NHLers.

“It wasn’t long ago since Billy was a player,” Rutherford said. “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.”

While having a member of management whose main responsibility is to serve as a liason between the locker room and hockey operations department is certainly unique and something the Penguins never had before, it’s not unfamiliar to Rutherford. Hall of Famer and former Penguin Ron Francis served in that same capacity under him in Carolina.

”A lot of times (when it came to) the communication with the players, it wasn't me going directly to a player. It would be ‘Ronnie,’” Rutherford said. “They had a trust level with him. It's the same with Bill. Not long ago he was a player. “

The Penguins players don’t just trust and respect Guerin – he’s an incredible human being with a funny personality who’s beloved by every guy in that locker room, a lot of whom are former teammates of his. And Rutherford hopes that the players will be comfortable communicating with him about anything and everything.

“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,” Rutherford said. “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.”

It’s has been an absolute whirlwind for Guerin, who was about to head over to local amusement park Kennywood with his family this morning when he got the news of his promotion. Bu he’s looking forward to getting started in his new role.

“I’m still learning,” he said. “I’ve worked very closely with Jason and Tommy ‘Fitz’ and learned a lot from them over the last couple years and will continue to do so. We’re going to work together to get back to our winning ways.”

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