I just found out today that longtime NHL GM Jimmy Rutherford is no longer the Penguins GM. Whether it's due to wanting to spend more time with his family or maybe he got the golden handshake? A disagreement with the owner? I don't know. But what I do know is that Jimmy Rutherford has played a huge part in my hockey fan history and I'll certainly miss him. In a hockey generation with so few trades, especially blockbuster ones, Jimmy was a breath of fresh air. We could always count on the Ol' Gunslinger to pull the trigger on a few trades.
For you football fans, what do you think of when you hear the name Brett Favre? I think of that Ol' Gunslinger who was never afraid to throw the football to places most other quarterbacks would never dare to try. He was confident, fearless and talented. That's how I'll remember Jimmy Rutherford. The Ol' Gunslinger who dared to make trades where other GMs never would.
Jimmy Rutherford played many years as an NHL goalie (drafted 10th overall in 1969) in the 1970's. Mostly with the Detroit Red Wings. He wasn't very good. But he wasn't bad either. He just played a long time in the NHL which is an achievement in itself. But Jimmy Rutherford's legacy will be remembered for what he did as an NHL General Manager.
After his playing days ended Rutherford began working with Detroit businessman Peter Karmanos. He joined Karmanos in 1983 as the Director of Hockey Operations for the Compuware Sports Corporation. He then took over the Windsor Spitfires OHL team after Karmanos purchased it in 1984 and ran it through the 87-88 season when he left to help Karmanos work on getting an OHL team in Detroit.
He took over the OHL's new Detroit Compuware Ambassadors team in 1990 and remained part of the organization until 1994. During his time in the 80s and early 90s, Karmanos and Rutherford's KTR group tried to buy an NHL team. They pursued the Red Wings and Penguins before acquiring the Hartford Whalers in June of '94.
Soon after as the new Hartford Whalers GM, Jimmy famously signed RFA defenseman Glen Wesley to a 7 year contract. Giving up 3 first round draft picks as compensation. He thought that Wesley being away from Ray Bourque in Boston would make him a star in Hartford. It never happened. Wesley was good but never great.
In 1995 Jimmy traded a young Chris Pronger to St. Louis for Brendan Shanahan. Pronger went on to become a Cup winning Hall of Fame defenseman. While Shanny went on to hate playing in Hartford and wanting to be traded. Can you really blame him? They didn't win much and played in a mall for crying out loud! But I did enjoy the all green sweaters and Brass Bonanza.
In 1996, Jimmy traded Brendan Shanahan and Bryan Glynn to Detroit for Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey and a 1st round draft pick. He later traded Primeau to get Rod Brind'Amour who became the face of the Carolina Hurricanes. Jimmy wheeled and dealed his roster into becoming a legitimate Cup contender. Like a bartender trying to make that perfect cocktail. Never losing sight of what he wanted to accomplish. Not caring what his naysayers thought.
In 1997 Jimmy signed RFA Sergei Fedorov to a 6 year/$38 million offer sheet. $26 million of it was front loaded. The Red Wings matched and went on to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup. This was more about the bitter rivalry between Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and Carolina owner Peter Karmanos.
In 2002 Jimmy's Carolina Hurricanes upset the Leafs in the conference final. They were no match for the Detroit Red Wings in the Cup Final, losing in 5 games. But they were on the right track. Alot of critics said Rutherford was a dinosaur who wouldn't be able to navigate The Salary Cap after the lost season of 2004-05. Once again, Jimmy proved his naysayers to be wrong.
The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 led by Brind'Amour. A no name defense consisting of guys like Mike Commodore and Aaron Ward. An old Glen Wesley too! Remember Mark Recchi? He was there. Why trade for an old Doug Weight? Why not? A hot rookie goalie in Cam Ward and a young star center named Eric Staal won the Ol' Gunslinger Jimmy Rutherford a Stanley Cup and cemented his legacy as an NHL GM made man.
So the ol' Gunslinger goes to Pittsburgh and immediately becomes Doc Holliday once again. Making trades faster than a Pavel Bure breakaway. Throwing away first round picks like Ken Holland did in the pre-cap era with the Red Wings. He was Brett Favre chuckin' it deep! Trades galore! Pens fans thought he was crazy! Until he built a back to back Cup winner in 2016 and 2017. Then he came to be known as a genius. Wow! Everything he touches turns to gold! But this just in. Winning a Stanley Cup isnt easy.
Remember the Phil Kessel trade? The popular narrative was always "you can't win a Cup with Phil Kessel on your team." Well it turned out to be true. They won 2 of them. And this is what I'll always appreciate about Jimmy Rutherford. He didn't care what anyone thought. Alot of GM's are guilty of repeating the mistakes of others. Just look at Brian Burke in Toronto. Or Paul Holmgren in Philly. Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton? But Jimmy always kept shooting for the moon while others were content to sit on the porch. He was going to either win big or go out in a blaze of glory. I respect that.
But once the Pens stopped winning Cups, Jimmy apparently became over the hill and past his prime. Washed up. His successes long forgotten. Such is the life of any NHL GM. You're the hero one minute. You're the scapegoat the next. But winning 3 Cups as an NHL GM is something not very many NHL GM's can say they accomplished. So the ol' Gunslinger may have fired off some duds. But he sure hit alot of bullseyes too. So for that Jimmy Rutherford, here's a celebratory congrats to you on your excellent career! Long live the Ol' Gunslinger!