Friday, June 6, 2014

Penguins hire Jim Rutherford to replace Ray Shero; this tastes like room-temperature 7UP

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.


  1. Its been reported (i didn't hear the press conference) by the Post Gazette that Rutherford already said this is a 2-3 year job and then he's out, all the while mentoring a assistant GM (Guerin or Fitzgerald). First up: Hiring a coach followed by finding a playoff goalie.

  2. My thoughts:
    1) Rutherford echoed in the presser what everyone understands as the Pens primary flaws. Nothing exciting, but I do find it comforting to hear it stated explicitly.

    2) Bylsma should have been fired with Shero, if only because I can't see the logic of not doing it immediately. It would have been the better decision. That said, he'll get hired by the Panthers in the next two weeks and everyone will get over it. Moral indignation bores me, particularly when all you've done is make a multimillionaire in a high stakes business a little uncomfortable for 3 weeks. Sorry. And it won't hurt the reputation of the franchise.

    3) I have no problem with this hire as a stop-gap. I suspected that immediately, and I'm glad that it was also stated explicitly. Botterill is 37 yrs. old. 37. Scouting is also the team's biggest weakness and not his area of expertise. I also think it will only make him a better GM in a couple of years to have had two different mentors. It's conservative - looking at the long game - and I don't find that a bad thing.

    4) The coaching hire is huge - perhaps even bigger than this one. The Pens need a simpler system that makes the most of its young and lower-tier guys. The complexity of the system is why: 1) the whole team is so mistake/turn-over prone; and 2) it couldn't make in-game/in-series adjustments. More importantly, other teams no longer have a blueprint for how to beat us.

    5) This team doesn't need major changes. It isn't in collapse. It lost a one-goal game 7 to a team currently playing for a championship (Incidentally, that team also has the lowest ranked farm system in the NHL. That's how they got there. And in a couple of years, they'll be paying for relying on a bunch of older, flashy FA acquisitions.) This teams needs better drafting (and to keep its picks). It needs to let the young guys play over "good guy" veterans - Despres, Bortuzzo, Megna, Sill need to replace Scuds, Engelland, Glass, and Vitale. It need a couple of shrewd signings - both resigning and FAs - to shore up the bottom 6. And it need perhaps one - and just one - significant trade for depth. Otherwise this team goes backwards. This fanbase has been wildly melodramatic about what needs done. Thank god the ownership has better sense than to turn us into the Flyers. How did those Carter/Richards trades work out? Dumb.

    6) Kris Letang should absolutely not be traded (and not just because I think he's as fun to watch play when he's on his game as anyone in the NHL).

    Who is going to replace what he does? Martin is the better defenseman - but he can't drive the offense alone. There's a reason why the Pens went from having serious issue getting out of their own zone when he was out at the end of the year to having better Corsi and Fenwick numbers than their opponents in the playoffs. Kris Letang drives play. You must, must, must have defenseman who can do what he does, and they are very rare. Let's also acknowledge that he was forced to play with Scuds. No one would look good with that anchor. He played well in the playoffs with Martin.

    And to boot - Ollie Maatta is going to regress next year. He's a 20-year-old kid coming off of his first major surgery. And Pouliot will spend all year in the minors for the same reason. They'll both be very, very good, but next year will be rough for both. I doubt we can afford to sign Niskanen (he'd be crazy to sign before 7/1, so how are you certain to resign him?) - and he's definitely not the better player, much as I like him. Brooks is certainly gone (rightly). So that leaves us with Martin, Bortuzzo, a recovering Maatta (and perhaps not until Nov.), an awful Rob Scuderi, and whatever kids come up (Despres, Harrington, Dumoulin). I can't fathom how anyone is comfortable with that if you trade for forwards; and I can't see how you are better if you trade for a d-man. I just don't.

    1. Good points.

      Bylsma definitely should have been fired three weeks ago. Pens tried to present themselves as being thoughtful and deliberate about the "process" of evaluating Bylsma, when really they made up their mind 3 weeks ago and only wanted to appear like they were thoughtful and deliberate. Outsmarted themselves. It definitely backfired, and it looks bad. Does it actually matter? No. Do I care? Not really.

      Botterill may be good, but he may not be. The longer he goes without being a GM, the better it is for his rep. This is backup QB syndrome. Everyone's favorite player until he gets in a game. You're right, though. It should be good for Botterill -- and everyone involved -- to be exposed to a different leader.

      Coaching hire is huge. John Stevens from LA makes a ton of sense. Has head coaching experience, got fired/humbled, excelled as an assistant on a team that everyone should model itself after, still youngish ... seems like the perfect resume to me. He can bring honesty to the org about how the Pens are perceived by their opponents. That's important.

      I get what you're saying about not trading Letang, and the Maatta injury definitely complicates things. I just don't think Letang is that great. He makes 7.25 million ... he shouldn't have to be paired with a $5m defenseman to be effective. I know there are tons of extenuating circumstances, but I think it would be irresponsible not to explore moving him for a D-man and a forward. He's hard to replace, but not irreplaceable. For the right price, I'd move him. But it'd have to be a big haul.

      One thing in favor of keeping Letang is that a new coach might do him some good and actually get him to play a more steady game without losing his mind (and the puck) so much. There's a direct correlation between Pens playoff disappointments and the amount of responsibility Letang has assumed. But that same correlation exists between disappointment and how ingrained the Pens became in Bylsma's system. I think change would do Letang's game good, whether in PGH or elsewhere.

      The one guy I wouldn't trade is Neal. Contract is too good, talent level is too high. Should skate with Sid next year, though.

      The guy who the Pens should sell high on is Chris Kunitz if they can get two younger bodies for him. Plus it would shake Crosby out of his comfort zone, which could be a good thing.

      Last thought -- I know Scuderi was bad, but his play dropped off significantly after the broken foot. I'm not expecting much from him next year, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he performed better after a full offseason of healing. He should be capped at 55 games next year. He doesn't need to play 82, and if he's anything less than 100% going into the playoffs he will be a big liability.

    2. Fair point on Neal - although I might trade him for just that reason. He could fetch the biggest return - perhaps a couple of young, talented potential top 6ers right on the AHL/NHL bubble. I wouldn't be shocked or think it's intrinsically bad to keep him. It's a riskier trade - but that will the most potential to be "won."

      As far as Tanger, I do think he's a better player than you do. I don't think he's untouchable, but I just don't believe you'd get that huge haul. It's a trade that you have a high potential to "lose."

      As far as I'm concerned - the only untouchables should be Sid, Geno, and Martin. And I'd add Fleury - because I don't know how you'd replace him. Every goalie who is better than he is already has a long-term home. He was certainly not the problem this post-season. And I think a new, simpler system with a better coach would benefit him more than anybody. Then you decide if you want to resign him next summer.

      I doubt Jokinen will resign with a GM who put him on waivers. I'm sad about that.

  3. I just realized the only scenario that fits Fleury leaving is Cory Schneider. With the way he shook the Devils down today and Fleury having the chance to be Brodeur's protege, it fits. I'm not sold in him being a superstar, but the Penguins don't really need a stud in net, they just need consistency.

  4. What happens to the name of this blog sans Bylsma? Maybe: Got To Our Game?