If you didn’t think a Good Old Boys' Club still existed in the National Hockey League, you were disabused of that thought Friday when the Pittsburgh Penguins hired Jim Rutherford as their new general manager.
The Penguins fired a smart man in Ray Shero and replaced him with a worn out old tire in Rutherford, whose Carolina Hurricanes teams missed the playoffs the final five seasons on his watch, seven of the previous eight and nine of the last 11.
Hey, maybe it’ll work out in Pittsburgh for Rutherford, and I’ll be the first to give him credit if that happens (albeit with the proviso that he had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin already on his team, and well, it’s not too tough to have a winning record with those two guys).
Let’s toss Rutherford the one biscuit that has propped up his resume these last eight years: His Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, beating an Edmonton Oilers team that didn’t have its No. 1 goalie (Dwayne Roloson) for the final six games.
The 2005-06 season is considered one of the most unpredictable in NHL history, mostly because of the discombobulated new rules that players were adjusting to on the fly and the brand-new salary-cap system that disarmed most of the previously powerful teams.
The other team of his that made the playoffs in the last 11 seasons, the 2008-09 Canes, advanced to the Eastern final after successive seven-game series wins, then got swept by the Penguins. From there: five straight non-playoff seasons in the less competitive conference.
The NHL is still a league you can upwardly fail in, hence the Rutherford-Penguins marriage. Think about it: The Penguins, on Friday, chose a man who could not take his own team to the playoffs the last five years over a man (Shero) who took his teams to the playoffs easily the last six years, with one Stanley Cup victory and one tough Cup Final loss the previous year to Detroit.
Mario Lemieux's ownership group messed up on this one. It opened its address book to “Get me some guy with a long track record, no matter the recent record, and let’s get this over with” section and decided to hire Jim Rutherford as the next GM.
I expect the next couple of years to be a further decline for the formerly great Penguins. But in the Good Old Boys' Club of the NHL, that may not matter much.
"I would suspect my term here is two or three years," Rutherford told reporters at his introductory press conference.
Rutherford said he will spend a lot of that potential time training underlings how to succeed him in the best way.
Supply your own punchline.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995 for The Denver Post. Follow him @Adater
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