By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)
The only thing we know for certain in the wake of Ray Shero's firing is that the Pens did it without having any idea what to do next. In the immediate aftermath of Shero's dismissal, there were rumors that this was part of some master plan for the Pens to lure Mike Babcock out of Detroit, as if the Pens ownership was already thinking 3-steps ahead of everyone else in the league (even though the league has been out-thinking the Pens for the last 5 years).
Jump ahead three weeks and people were trying to talk themselves into Pierre McGuire. The Pens went from having one of the most respected GMs in the entire NHL who, despite his many mistakes the last few years, was still someone who had the trust of players, agents, and other GMs to reportedly considering hiring a guy who hasn't been involved with a hockey team since coaching in the ECHL in the mid-90s and steadfastly refuses to pronounce people's names correctly for no reason. That's like firing Ben Bernanke and spending the next three weeks interviewing Lou Dobbs.
Shero's moves the past few years are not defensible, but you don't change a GM just for the sake of change. That's what firing coaches is for. GMs can make bad signings, bad trades, and set a bad direction for the franchise ... but, unlike coaches, they can also undo the damage they've done. When a coach loses the room, it's lost and it's not coming back. But when a GM makes a mistake, he can undo it. Glen Sather got someone to take Scott Gomez's contract and now the Rangers are in the Stanley Cup Final. Shero has done damage, but probably could have undone most of it -- or at least could have been trusted to try. And if the rumors are true that Shero had a Letang trade in place last summer (a move that would have likely re-stocked the cupboard that had grown increasingly bare), but had it nixed by ownership, then you'll have to excuse us for feeling like the Pens might have fired the wrong guy.
Enter Jim Rutherford.
He was a late addition to the list of rumored candidates, a list that's only distinction was its lack of distinction. Julien BriseBois? If we pretended to have a clue about him we'd be as phony as anyone pretending not to be horrified at the realistic possibility that David Morehouse was going to pull a Dick Cheney. Sure, Governor. I'll advise you on VP candidates. Paul Fenton? Eh. Tom Fitzgerald has no particular qualifications for the job. Jason Botterill is probably fine, but if the Pens were confident in him, they wouldn't have spent 3 weeks wasting time talking to Pierre F'ing McGuire.
Firing Shero was high risk, low reward. Hiring Jim Rutherford is high risk, low reward, but it's not -- at least at the outset -- a disaster. Make all the Jussi Jokinen jokes you want, but they've already stopped being funny. Every GM makes bad moves, and when it comes to waiving a guy or trading him while retaining salary, it's likely that something is going on behind the scenes we don't know about. And if we're going to judge Rutherford on his trades with the Pens, remember that he's the guy who sold Shero on the idea that Brandon Sutter was good enough to be, for 2 seasons, the only NHL-ready asset the Pens received in exchange for Jordan Staal, a player who had unlimited value when he was traded. Here's hoping he can hoodwink another team into thinking Sutter is that good.
Rutherford certainly has his flaws, but for better or worse, at least he has a track record. The only thing we've heard about Botterill and BriseBois is that they're young, as if being under 40 is itself an asset. Glen Sather is 70. Dean Lombardi is 56. Being young is great, but the Pens need to make some big changes to the roster immediately, and there's no guarantee that a GM with absolutely no experience would come in and have the balls to trade a guy like Neal, Letang, or Kunitz, when he knows he has at least a one year grace period where everyone will continue blaming Ray Shero unless the new guy royally screws up (and trading one of those guys could end up being a royal screw up). Rutherford can hit the ground running on Day 1. Maybe it will be with a thud. But maybe, with an ownership group willing to spend to the cap, it won't be.
We'll see what Rutherford does with the coaching situation, the draft, and free agency before we judge. Until then, all we can do is feel. And we feel underwhelmed by the entire process and result, not because the Pens hired Rutherford, but because there was no one they could have hired that would have made us feel otherwise.