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Canucks hire Jim Rutherford as president of hockey operations

Rutherford will act as interim general manager while the Canucks seek someone else for the role.
jim rutherford
The Vancouver Canucks have hired Jim Rutherford, who won Stanley Cups with the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins.

When Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said that all options were on the table on Monday, it seems that the table was actually already set and ready for dinner. Just three days after discussing options for the team's front office, the Canucks have hired a new president of hockey operations.

As first reported by TSN's Darren Dreger and confirmed by the likes of The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, CHEK TV's Rick Dhaliwal, and the Canucks themselves, the Canucks' new president of hockey ops is Jim Rutherford.

Rutherford, who was inducted into the Hockey Haall of Fame as a builder in 2019, will also act as interim general manager while the team continues to seek a new GM for Rutherford to mentor. Further, Rutherford is expected to mentor Daniel and Henrik Sedin, with an eye towards them playing larger roles in the future.

"It is time for a new vision and a new leader who will set a path forward for this team," said Aquilini in a press release. "Jim has tremendous experience building and leading winning organizations and I believe he will help build the Vancouver Canucks into a team that can compete for championships again."

"It is an honour to join the Vancouver Canucks and to lead an NHL team in Canada," said Rutherford in the same release. "I would like to thank Francesco and the Aquilini family for the opportunity. The Canucks have an exciting young group of players, and I look forward to building a plan that will take this team to the next level and excite Canucks fans everywhere."

According to Dhaliwal, Rutherford had input on the hiring of new head coach Bruce Boudreau. John Shannon has also reported that Boudreau and Rutherford were Aquilini's only two targets.

So much for a wide-ranging, exhaustive search. Still, there's something to be said for getting exactly who you want.

Rutherford is an experienced executive with three Stanley Cups to his name — one with the Carolina Hurricanes and two with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's hard to argue with that track record, though it certainly helps that he had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their primes with the Penguins.

While Rutherford is part of the old boy's club in the NHL, his experience with developing an organizational culture — something Aquilini and Stan Smyl emphasized on Monday — makes him a solid fit as a president of hockey ops. In Pittsburgh, he built a strong analytics group that worked in tandem with the team's scouting department, with one of his most well-known hires being Sam Ventura, founder of the now-defunct website WAR-On-Ice.

"I don't see any war [between analytics and scouting],” said Rutherford while with the Penguins. "I think it's the way we do our business now, and I think it works. You do have different analytics companies that do things a little different. Over the years, it's something I've had to sort out, as to which ones work or which ones are better than others."

As a GM, Rutherford pulled off some big deals, none bigger than trading for Phil Kessel. He took a gamble on trading away James Neal and got Patric Hornqvist, who played a key role in two Stanley Cup wins. He also traded Brandon Sutter to the Canucks for a package that included Nick Bonino, another key player in two Cup runs. His acquisition of Jared McCann was another smart move, only losing him because of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. 

Some of Rutherford's decisions as GM are a little more mystifying, however, sometimes flying in the face of analytics. With the Penguins, he particularly made some strange decisions on defence, such as signing Jack Johnson to a five-year deal and trading Tanner Pearson for Erik Gudbranson. He has found some gems on defence, however, like John Marino and Trevor Daley, and Justin Schultz was also a savvy acquisition.

Of course, Rutherford won't be the long-term GM of the Canucks. It will be intriguing to see who the Canucks look to hire as GM, as they have the potential to go in a more progressive direction with their GM hire to go with a more old-school, 72-year-old president in Rutherford. It might be more likely, however, that the Canucks find a recycled GM in lieu of a wide-ranging search, much like they did with Boudreau and Rutherford.

When asked about hiring a president and GM, Aquilini emphasized the need for a duo that can work together.

"They know each other, they can work together. Those two people have to work very closely together. You’d have to find the perfect fit, and that’s not easy to find," he said.

That puts the spotlight immediately on Jason Botterill, who was once Rutherford's right-hand man with the Penguins and has GM experience with the Buffalo Sabres. Botterill is currently an assistant GM with the Seattle Kraken.

Botterill didn't have the best time in Buffalo, trading away Ryan O'Reilly in a lopsided deal that netted him little in return, signing Jeff Skinner to a boat anchor contract, and finding little in the draft outside of top 10 picks. 

Would he have more success in Vancouver? Or will Rutherford and the Canucks look elsewhere for a GM?

There's one other element of Rutherford's hiring that needs to be discussed.

Rutherford was GM of the Penguins in 2018 when Clark Donatelli, the head coach of their AHL affiliate, allegedly sexually assaulted Erin Skalde, the wife of assistant coach Jarrod Skalde. The Skaldes subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Penguins for allegedly covering up the assault.

According to the lawsuit, Jarrod Skalde was told by Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin, "Knowledge of the incident and termination had to be suppressed, cautioning that it ‘has to stay quiet and can’t be let out.'"

The Penguins claimed, however, that they reacted promptly when Skalde reported the incident.

"Upon receiving this report, the Penguins immediately conducted a thorough investigation and took prompt action," said the Penguins in a statement. "Within a few days, the former coach who was alleged to have been involved in the incident departed from the organization."

It is unclear what role Rutherford played in the resolution of this matter and the Skaldes claims were never tested in court, as the Penguins settled with the couple out of court last month