The Vancouver Canucks’ new President of Hockey Operations and interim GM Jim Rutherford has a bit of a reputation as somebody unafraid to make trades.
In fact, Rutherford has a reputation as one of the most aggressive general managers in the history of the National Hockey League.
Today, Rutherford told media that when he took the opportunity in Pittsburgh, he told his wife that he felt he had the chance to win the Stanley Cup.
And he did just that.
Rutherford pulled off some big deals that rounded out the Penguins’ roster and put them over the edge into becoming a bonafide contender. Some deals were riskier than others — namely trading James Neal for Patric Hornqvist very shortly after Rutherford took over in Pittsburgh — but Rutherford’s impact on the Penguins winning back-to-back Stanley Cups is undeniable.
He almost singlehandedly constructed the storied “HBK line”, which consisted of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel on the Penguins’ third line. That line was dominant in the playoffs for the Penguins and instrumental in them winning the Cup in 2016.
If you thought Jim Benning was aggressive, wait until you see Rutherford get to work.
The main difference is — Rutherford already seems to have a much better handle on where the Canucks are actually at than Benning ever did over his tenure.
“I want to be careful with our trades,” added Rutherford. “I don’t want to trade draft picks unless they’re later round picks. It’s not the cycle we’re in to trade high draft picks.”
While this may seem clear to plenty of outside observers, it was always a knock on the previous management regime that they never seemed to have a clear plan in place that they stuck with.
They made some good moves that looked great in a vacuum, but were questionable based largely on the timing of their execution.
In other words, middle-of-the-pack teams shouldn’t trade first-round picks — and according to Rutherford — neither should the Canucks in their current state.
As for trading personnel already with the club, nothing’s off the table for Rutherford.
The Canucks’ new President did admit that because he’s only been in Vancouver for a day and a half, he doesn’t have a good answer to the question of whether or not the team is one or two pieces away from contending just yet, but was very honest with where he feels the Canucks are currently at.
“With the parity in this league, it appears that given year after year with different teams, if you lose the wrong two guys, you drop drastically — and if you add the right two guys, you can move up drastically. There’s a lot of good players here. But there’s some areas that definitely have to be improved, and how long will that take? Especially with where we are in the cap — we have to get very creative or it’s dollar in and dollar out. Usually when it’s dollar in, dollar out, you’re just bringing in another player back for that guy.”
There’s little debate that Rutherford wasn’t left a great situation by the previous management regime. The club pushed all their chips in to create a team that is a middle-of-the-pack team at best while being right up against the cap without much help coming down the prospect pipeline because they traded too many futures to patch their past mistakes to even get to this point.
Rutherford knows that he still needs to properly evaluate the team, decide on a plan, and execute that plan to perfection.
Most of all, Rutherford is focused on hiring smart people into the vacant roles in the Canucks’ hockey operations department.
“I’m not in a hurry to make a trade,” said Rutherford. “I’ve already got calls. I got calls before I got to Vancouver…If somebody calls and something pretty good comes along that we think improves our team now and in the long run, we’ll take a look at it, but I’m not going to be making a lot of calls. My focus immediately will be to get this [front office] restructured and get people in place because the stronger the hockey department is off the ice, it will make the team stronger on the ice.”
Today, Rutherford was careful with his words. He didn’t take the bait to eagerly say something like “this is a team we can turn around in a hurry” when asked if this team is a few pieces away from contending.
Instead, he admitted that it’s going to take some time to properly assess and evaluate this team, and that nothing is off the table at this point in time.
In doing so, Rutherford instilled confidence in a fanbase that has largely been void of it for quite some time now.
Honest question: when was the last time a press conference from a Canucks hockey ops executive made fans feel more confident about the state of their team?
Whatever the answer, the recent developments are certainly a welcome change of pace for everyone observing this team.