Penguins warily carry on after GM Rutherford’s abrupt exit

AP Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford smiles as he takes questions during a press conference at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Pa., in this Tuesday, June 25, 2019, photo. Rutherford, a Hockey Hall of Famer who helped lead the team to a pair of Stanley Cup titles, resigned abruptly on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. The 71-year-old cited “personal reasons” in making the decision. (Jessie Wardarski/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby is used to change. More than 15 years in the NHL has taught the Pittsburgh Penguins longtime captain that it’s simply part of the business.

Not all change, however, is created equal. Having a teammate traded, sign with another club or incur a long-term injury is one thing. Having the architect who put together a roster that led the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups resign without warning is another.

So, yes, it was weird for Crosby and the rest of the Penguins to learn after practice Wednesday that general manager Jim Rutherford decided to step down.Rutherford cited personal reasons and declined to get into specifics with anyone, including Crosby.

“I think everyone was surprised,” Crosby said Thursday.

Still, Crosby believes the contribution Rutherford made to one of the NHL’s premier franchises and the state he left it in leaves the Penguins in decent shape, at least after the initial shock wears off.

“I think there’s some great people here that will continue to do good work,” Crosby said.

Patrik Allvin gets the first crack at picking up where Rutherford left off. A longtime member of the scouting department before becoming assistant general manager in the fall, the 46-year-old becomes the first Swedish-born NHL general manager. Not that he’s had time to let the significance sink in.

“It’s definitely been a roller-coaster here for sure,” Allvin said. “A lot of emotions. A lot of mixed feelings.”

Allvin takes over a team that’s survived a series of injuries — particularly on defense — to work its way into the middle of the pack of what will be a crowded and competitive East Division. The Penguins are 4-2-1 heading into Thursday night’s game against Boston despite losing defensemen Marcus Pettersson, Brian Dumoulin and Juuso Riikola for an extended period in a truncated 56-game season.

While team president David Morehouse is plunging head-first into finding Rutherford’s full-time successor, there’s no telling how long that might take. There are still more than 10 weeks until the trade deadline, but Rutherford developed a reputation for not waiting when he saw a need to be addressed. Even in the hours before he left, Rutherford signed veteran defenseman Yannick Weber to give Pittsburgh a boost at the blue line.

Allvin believes the tone set by coach Mike Sullivan and the fact he can bounce ideas off of co-owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux means Rutherford’s departure should not signal a shift in approach.

“I think the work that Sully has done over the last five years, the culture we have and the mindset and the identity of our team, I think it’s set up for success,” Allvin said.

“We’re getting tested here and we’ve always had the next man up mentality and that’s where we’re going to test the depth of our organization and the character of our players.”

Sullivan, hired by Rutherford in December 2015 to provide an underachieving club a jolt, stressed that his job remains the same even with Rutherford no longer part of day-to-day operations. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly easy moving on, not after the two oversaw an overhaul that led the Penguins to Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

“We’re all human and we build relationships over time. … Jim and I have developed a great friendship through our working experiences here with the Penguins and I can’t say enough about how much respect I have for him as a professional,” Sullivan said. “But he’s a good friend. It’s just, it’s hard.”

Though Crosby and Allvin began working in the organization around the same time. Crosby arrived with the top pick in the 2005 draft, and Allvin joined the Penguins as a scout in 2006. Yet their interactions have been limited at best.

“I’ve met him at different points,” Crosby said. “Haven’t spent a lot of time with him over the years, but definitely familiar with him, but that’s about the extent of it though.”

That relationship figures to evolve now with Allvin overseeing a roster that still has two of the NHL’s biggest stars in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Morehouse said Allvin is a candidate to land the job full time. The next few weeks could go a long way toward determining how serious a candidate he becomes.

“I don’t anticipate anything other than me being in Pittsburgh and being prepared,” Allvin said. “That’s my message to the staff. Obviously, I’ll spend some more time with Sully here and see what’s needed or not.

“But I think we have a lot of good pieces in place here. Basically, I’m going to do my part, my job here and we’ll see how far that takes me.”

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