(Picture hanging in Jim Rutherford's office/Getty Images)
Hanging inside of Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford’s office at CONSOL Energy Center is a picture of Sidney Crosby taking a faceoff against Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal.
The framed photo commemorates Rutherford’s past – he spent 20 years as the GM of the Hartford/Carolina franchise – and present. Putting up the photo was something the GM requested after he was hired by the Pens in June.
“They had a picture of Game 7 when they won the Cup (in 2009),” Rutherford, 65, said while gazing at the photo. “We have those pictures all over the place anyways. I said I wanted something from my past team and present team. That’s as good as we can get, especially the fact that Jordan played (in Pittsburgh). It’s a great picture.”
Rutherford sat in his this very same office in June of 2012 with then Pens GM Ray Shero and put the finishing touches on the trade that sent Staal to Carolina.
Rutherford’s past and present will collide – literally on the ice – when the Penguins and Hurricanes battle in a back-to-back, home-and-home series over the weekend. The first game takes place Friday night in Pittsburgh, while the backend is Saturday in Raleigh.
I intensely try to block it out because it will be emotional for me. - Jim Rutherford
“I haven’t thought about the games. I intensely try to block it out because it will be emotional for me,” Rutherford said of the upcoming weekend series. “I think about Carolina a lot. I have a connection to a lot of those players and people that are still there. I was there a long time. I was treated well by Pete (Karmanos), the owner, the players, the management, the fans. I enjoyed it there for a long time.”
When the Pens take the bus to PNC Arena in Carolina on Saturday it will be the first time in his life that Rutherford will enter the facility and travel to the visitors’ locker room.
“I’m going to walk back in that building with the visiting team,” Rutherford said. “Maybe I’ll just go into the game a little later than the team and just go in with my daughter. I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”
Rutherford started his managerial career with the Hartford Whalers in 1994. He was a part of the team when they relocated to Carolina in 1997, a non-traditional hockey market.
“It was difficult,” Rutherford said of the transplanted franchise. “Anytime you make that move there are emotions of leaving Hartford. The biggest challenge was we weren’t in our actual city for two years. We lived in Raleigh, we traveled to Greensboro. We didn’t draw many people those first couple years. Those first years were pretty tough.”
Rutherford, who also served as team president from 1994-14, spent the next 17 years in Carolina and it became “home” for him. During his tenure the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, made two Final appearances and three conference final berths (the last was a loss to the Pens in ’09 en route to Pittsburgh’s third championship). Rutherford was named The Hockey News 'Executive of the Year' in 2002 and '06.
“We went there and started building a franchise from nothing. There were some rough times and some good times,” Rutherford said. “The biggest things that stand out are going to the conference finals three times, Stanley Cup Finals twice and winning the Cup. All my memories are good ones.”
Pittsburgh was a pseudo home to Rutherford before being named the Pens’ GM. During his NHL playing career, Rutherford was a Pens’ netminder for three seasons from 1971-74.
“I’ve always liked this city,” Rutherford said. “The people are so friendly here. The people haven’t changed. It’s the same culture of friendly people, great sports town. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to come back to Pittsburgh and live here and be a part of it.”
Rutherford came to Pittsburgh with one thing in mind: winning the Stanley Cup. He is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that feat.
“We have the core and base here to do extremely well,” Rutherford said. “I’m looking forward to trying to help us get to the finish line, which is our goal to get into June, and I feel pretty strong that over the next year or few years that we’re going to be able to do that.”