LAS VEGAS, Nevada – General manager Jim Rutherford completely changed the dynamic of the Pens in just two seasons. That transition resulted in Pittsburgh claiming its fourth Stanley Cup championship in team history.
Rutherford made a lot of moves and changes along the way, and for his efforts he was named the NHL’s General Manager of the Year at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
“We got the big prize 10 days ago,” Rutherford said. “That was really the one we were looking for. But any time a team gets recognition with another award it’s an honor. I view this really as a team award. It takes everybody involved. It takes all cylinders going. We’re very fortunate.”
Since being hired in the summer of 2014, Rutherford acquired Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, signed Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr and promoted Mike Sullivan to head coach, as well as many other changes to the roster and hockey staff. The team’s championship can be attributed to the culmination of all of those moves.
“It took more than one move to get us to the Stanley Cup,” Rutherford said. “We wouldn’t have won the Cup without Mike Sullivan coming in and doing the job that he did. We wouldn’t have won the Cup without Phil Kessel’s play. We wouldn’t have won the Cup with all the contributions of all the other players. We wouldn’t have won the Cup without the players that were with the Penguins before I got there.”
But Rutherford’s contributions can’t be discounted.
“I’m a part of this. I’m the guy that steers the ship, but I’m just part of it,” Rutherford humbly said. “It takes a lot of people to contribute. (Former Pens GMs) Ray Shero and Craig Patrick were a part of this too because they drafted certain players and made certain moves that I reaped the rewards for. There are a lot of people that deserve credit.”
Rutherford, the first general manager since the 1967 expansion to win a Cup with two teams, was named the Executive of the Year in 2002 by The Hockey News and ’06 by The Hockey News and The Sporting News. He also led the Carolina Hurricanes to a title in 2006.
Despite his personal contributions, Rutherford noted that the Pens organization is solid from top to bottom.
“We have great ownership,” Rutherford said. “We have an incredible coach. What a good job he did turning the team around. He connected with the players right from the start. He instilled a system that gave the players a chance to succeed. My hockey ops group, a good supporting cast, came up with good ideas. I came here with a core of star players and knew that we needed to make some changes. Those changes turned out.”
Now, Rutherford is in charge of defending the Stanley Cup title.
“I got a head start. I have a good group of players,” Rutherford said. “I don’t have cap issues. I’ll be able to bring back mostly the same players. One of the things that got us to win the Cup is that we have a lot of character players.
“It’s difficult when you only have 100 days to heal the bodies up and get ready to go again, and a lot of these guys have the World Cup to play. I think this team will be ready. We’ll see where it goes.”