35 years and counting and Jim Rutherford is still going strong as an NHL general manager. Rutherford, who can now truly be called a “legend” with his induction into the hall, has established himself as one of the best general managers in the sport and is continuing that hard work today. Rutherford joined the likes of legendary general managers like Scotty Bowman, Frank J. Selke, Glen Sather and so many more as he joins the Hockey Hall Of Fame in the newly established builder’s category.
After retiring from his playing career, Rutherford became the general manager of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in the 1984-1985 season. He would serve as the team’s general manager for four seasons and spend part of his third season with the team as their head coach. During the 1986-1987 season, Rutherford was named the OHL executive of the year as well as the CHL executive of the year.
In his next season, Rutherford led the Spitfires to an OHL championship and was named the OHL executive of the year for the second time in as many seasons. After winning the championship with the Spitfires during the 1987-1988 season, Rutherford joined the Detroit Ambassadors of the OHL where he would spend the next four seasons as the president, general manager, and for a time, the team’s head coach.
In 1994, Rutherford moved up to the National Hockey League. He joined the Hartford Whalers as the general manager, team president and a minority owner. He built and guided his team through thick and thin and stayed with the team as they relocated to Carolina where they then became the Hurricanes.
In 2005-2006, all of his hard work paid off when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. It was his first Stanley Cup victory throughout both his playing and management career. The Carolina Hurricanes win was a testament of Rutherford’s talent as a general manager as he won hockey’s highest honour with a team that was “totally built by me” as Rutherford states during his Hockey Hall Of Fame Ring Presentation speech.
After 20 years building the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers and guiding them to a Stanley Cup, Rutherford left the Hurricanes in 2014 and joined the Pittsburgh Penguins, a role that he still holds today. He joined an organization that had already built a solid foundation of talent with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andrei Fleury and Kris Letang already on the team. However, Rutherford built the team into a dynasty, leading the Penguins to Stanley Cups in two consecutive years.
He is responsible for bringing in Patrik Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz to name a few as they were essential in the Pittsburgh Penguins back-back Stanley Cup championship wins. During the 2015-2016 season which was just his second as the general manager of the Penguins, Jim Rutherford found himself being named as the National Hockey League’s general manager of the year.
While Jim Rutherford’s legendary management career is not over at this point, his most important moment may be on Monday evening at the Hockey Hall Of Fame Induction. When I asked about where being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame ranked on his long list of achievements, Rutherford said, “Well I mean, it’s probably tops, this is the pinnacle. You know we get in our game to win championships, but that’s part of what gets you here. To think that I will be in the Hall Of Fame and my kids can come and show their friends and kids is pretty special.”
When inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame, inductees receive a ring like that of a Stanley Cup ring. Like a championship ring, it is a huge honour to possess such hardware as it is a symbol and reminder of the history that you were apart of. However, to Rutherford, it is a much different feeling to put on the Hockey Hall Of Fame ring over a Stanley Cup championship ring.
When asked about that feeling in the length, the NHL executive said, “No it’s a different feeling cause this I can reflect on my whole hockey life now when I wear this ring and think about it. When you win a Stanley Cup, it all happens in a short period of time and there’s so much excitement around that time when you’re getting that ring. It’s a two or three month, you know, excitement period, so it’s a little bit different feeling.”
Being inducted in the Hockey Hall Of Fame is the biggest honour that anybody apart of hockey could ever achieve. Rutherford is now amongst some of the best builders the hockey world has ever seen and can officially be called a “legend” in the growing sport of ice hockey.