Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame Tuesday in the builders’ category.
Rutherford just completed his fifth season with the Penguins, following a 20-year run as the president and general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise from 1994-2015.
“We’ve always thought of Jim Rutherford as a Hall of Fame general manager and builder, and today’s announcement that he will formally be inducted into the Hall is richly deserved,” said David Morehouse, president and CEO of the Penguins. “He has ties to the Penguins dating back to his playing days in the 1970s, and his impact on the franchise as our GM, in leading us to back-to-back Stanley Cups, has been exceptional. In addition to his Hall of Fame credentials, Jim is a down-to-earth, honest, straight-talking guy who does his job every day with class and dignity. We know we are very lucky to have him as part of the Penguins organization.”
Under Rutherford’s guidance, Pittsburgh won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017, becoming the first team in the Salary Cap Era to win consecutive titles. When the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in 2016, Rutherford became the first GM since the 1967 NHL expansion to manage multiple teams to Stanley Cups. He won his first championship with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
By winning a third championship in 2017, Rutherford became the fourth active league GM with three titles, joining Chicago’s Stan Bowman, Detroit’s Ken Holland and the New York Islanders’ Lou Lamoriello, a fellow member of the Hall of Fame. Rutherford is the seventh GM since the 1967 NHL Expansion to win three Stanley Cups. Only Sam Pollock (7 titles), Glen Sather (5 titles) and Bill Torrey (4 titles) have won more championships in the modern era.
In addition to the three Stanley Cups Rutherford has won during his 25-year run as a GM, he built the 2002 Carolina Hurricanes squad that lost to the high-powered Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final, and his 2009 Hurricanes fell to the eventual champion Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
When Pittsburgh won its Stanley Cup championship in 2016, Rutherford had completely retooled the roster from his first year on the job, acquiring such players as Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Justin Schultz. Those players helped change the identity of Pittsburgh’s attack, and helped earn him the 2016 NHL General Manager of the Year Award.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, Rutherford brought back nearly his entire roster from the Cup-winning squad of the previous year. He made only subtle changes midseason, acquiring defensemen Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit, and promoting key rookies Jake Guentzel and Carter Rowney. Those moves provided the jolt his team needed to capture a second straight title.
Known throughout hockey circles as one of the fairest and most-willing of the wheelers and dealers, Rutherford swung deals to add veterans Mark Recchi and Doug Weight to his 2006 Cup-winning squad in Carolina, moves that put his club over the top in eventually beating the Edmonton Oilers in a seven-game series in the finals.
While at the helm of the Hurricanes, Rutherford ran the hockey operations and business sides of the organization. He won The Hockey News’ Executive of the Year in 2002 and 2006, and was voted by his peers as Sporting News’ Executive of the Year in 2006.
Rutherford’s key moves as an architect aren’t limited to acquiring players. His decision to promote Mike Sullivan to head coach in December of 2015 put the Penguins on track to win back-to-back titles. Rutherford’s Carolina Hurricanes emerged as winners not long after he brought Peter Laviolette on board as head coach, replacing good friend Paul Maurice, who was the bench coach when Carolina advanced to the 2002 final.
In the 2017 finals, when the Penguins beat the Nashville Predators in six games, Sullivan became the first American-born head coach to win multiple Stanley Cups. Laviolette was the head coach of the Predators, the third team he has guided to a Cup Final (also Carolina and Philadelphia), making him just the fourth coach in NHL history to lead three teams to the finals. Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan were the others.
Before becoming an NHL executive in Hartford in 1994, Rutherford began his front office career with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He led the Spitfires to an OHL championship and Memorial Cup berth in 1988, and was named the league’s ‘Executive of the Year’ in back-to-back seasons in 1987 and ’88. Later, in 1990, Rutherford spearheaded efforts to establish the first United States-based franchise in the OHL, the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors.
Rutherford is the 17th player or builder with ties to the Penguins elected to the Hall of Fame. He is the second GM of the team enshrined, joining Craig Patrick, who was chosen in 2001. Patrick also guided the Penguins to back-to-back titles, doing so in 1991 and ’92.
Rutherford enjoyed a 13-year playing career as a goaltender, including three seasons with the Penguins. He also suited up with Toronto, Los Angeles and Detroit. Rutherford was a 1969 first-round (10th overall) draft pick by the Red Wings.
Unlike players, referees and linesmen, those elected to the Hall of Fame as a builder can be either active or inactive at the time of their selection.
This year’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on Monday, Nov. 18 in Toronto. The Penguins do not have a game that night.