Penguins GM Jim Rutherford gets new deal after title season

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- When Jim Rutherford arrived in Pittsburgh in the summer of 2014, he figured he'd be around two or three years tops. It's one promise the general manager is happy to break.

The Penguins signed Rutherford to a new three-year contract Friday just two weeks removed from the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup -- one that had Rutherford's fingerprints all over it.

"Everything Jim said he was going to do from the first interview we talked to him, he's accomplished," Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said.

The Penguins lured Rutherford, 67, to Pittsburgh two years ago and tasked him with overhauling a talented but underachieving roster. He rebuilt the team on the fly around stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

After a bumpy start in 2014-15 -- which ended with a meek first-round playoff exit against the New York Rangers -- the Penguins took off last December after Rutherford fired coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with Mike Sullivan.

"You're not going to walk right in and figure that out," Rutherford said. "After my first year here, I had a very good handle on how it works."

Rutherford made a series of moves focused on depth and speed, bringing in forwards Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin, Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen along with defenseman Trevor Daley. Over half of Pittsburgh's goals during its run to the Stanley Cup (40 of 73) were scored by players acquired by Rutherford.

"I like to build with balance throughout the lineup," Rutherford said. "Pressure is going to build on your star players, but ... if you can get those guys in your third and fourth lines winning games for you, you're well on your way to having a good team."

Rutherford is the first general manager of the expansion era (post-1967) to lead multiple franchises to championships. He was in Carolina when the Hurricanes won their only Cup in 2006 but had moved to a different role when Pittsburgh reached out after firing Ray Shero in 2014. He declined to speculate on whether this latest deal will be his last. He will be 70 when it expires in 2019.

"When I stepped down in Carolina, I thought that was it," Rutherford said. "Now it's a few more years. For a lot of years people have asked me [how long] I'm going to do this. Most of the guys that ask me, I've outlasted them all."

Pittsburgh was otherwise quiet during the opening day of free agency, signing forward Tom Sestito and defensemen Steve Oleksy and Stuart Percy to two-way contracts. The team also added defensemen Cameron Gaunce, Chad Ruhwedel and David Warsofsky.

Two familiar faces, however, left the Penguins. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy signed with New Jersey, and backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Kings. Cullen, who just completed his 19th year by winning his second Cup, is considering coming back for another season.