Canucks President Jim Rutherford on trade plans, shaking things up, and Elias Pettersson’s struggles
11 months ago
Jim Rutherford has a long list of things to do in the new year. And during a Friday morning interview with Mike Halford and Jason Brough on Sportsnet 650, the Canucks’ President of Hockey Ops and interim GM gave us a number of insights into his management style and how Vancouver will approach the rest of the season and beyond.
First and foremost, Rutherford has been putting together his shortlist of GM candidates that he plans on meeting in person, and is hopeful that he’ll have someone in place “within the month, next month or so.” But while he said he doesn’t plan on making any trades in the interim, Rutherford confirmed he’ll still have final say on hockey decisions regardless of who sits in the general manager chair.
One important aspect Rutherford mentioned was his own willingness to tinker with an established group, a factor that likely won’t disappear when a new GM arrives. Based on his own interest in finding an “entry level general manager” and mentoring them, the potential of creating a front office that values shakeup moves could certainly come into play.
“You have to see where they’re at, what’s driving the team. Do they need a change in a certain area?” Rutherford said. “Sometimes some of those deals that have been made are short-term deals, where a guy will come in and give the team a little juice and help them for a while, and then that player may get turned over again because you need a different position or whatever.”
As for building out the rest of the Canucks’ front office, Rutherford has a clear vision of what that entails in 2021: a diverse, well-rounded department that sees the game in as many different ways as possible.
“What I’m looking for, is having people that come up through the hockey system in different ways, and will probably have different viewpoints on certain things. It’s very important to have your hockey operations as one cohesive group, but you want different opinions, and you want them to debate. You want them to take a position on something that’s different from somebody else.”
And with the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation in the NHL, Rutherford has already been leaning on other members of the Canucks’ front office, particularly Abbotsford Canucks GM Ryan Johnson, to keep things running smoothly.
“Ryan Johnson has done a remarkable job for us. I’ve really grown to appreciate him and he’s the guy that is staying on top of this because he’s in charge of the cap and the roster,” Rutherford said.
As far as the current on-ice product is concerned, thanks to the Canucks riding a nine-game point streak and the COVID outbreak causing scheduling conflicts across the league, time is currently on Rutherford’s side. And while the club has certainly clawed their way back into the playoff conversation, Rutherford is being extremely cautious about overvaluing a quick turnaround.
“We’re dealing with the standard that teams deal with all the time with injuries, but with COVID also,” Rutherford said. “It’s going to take more time to really tell you how I feel.”
But that didn’t stop him from offering his opinions on where the team needs improvement. Rutherford cited the lack of scoring from the team’s bottom six across the final eight games of 2021, and also addressed the biggest question of all; when will Elias Pettersson return to playing like his normal self?
“I do think he’s taken strides in the right direction, compared to where he was the first 20 games or so,” Rutherford said. “He’s making some headway, albeit it’s not as quick as we all would like. But we know it’s there. He’s done it before. And he’s just gotta keep working at it.”
While Rutherford highlighted Pettersson’s glint of chemistry with Conor Garland as a reason for optimism on that front, when it comes to the day to day lineup decisions, he leaves those responsibilities to Bruce Boudreau and the coaching staff. So even as the wins continue to pile up around the Canucks, Rutherford is preaching an organizational reset that revolves around short-term patience and strong long-term planning, two elements that have been missing from the front office for quite some time.
But perhaps the most important thing Jim Rutherford mentioned came in passing. He doesn’t just want a hockey team that can scrape into the postseason and see what happens; he wants a bonafide Cup contender, something Vancouver hasn’t seen in over a decade, and he won’t leave a single stone unturned to get there.
“We need to get better in certain places so we can grow into a consistent playoff team and grow into a contender,” Rutherford said.
“And because of that, with the trades that we make going forward, if we make trades, it’d be for draft picks, it’ll be for younger players, so we can bring this team together hopefully within a year or two, to be that consistent playoff team.”
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