The Pittsburgh Penguins learned of their GM’s self-imposed and abrupt exit as they left the ice after practice on Wednesday. Captain Sidney Crosby customarily said all of the right things about Jim Rutherford’s resignation and admitted the team addressed it fully on Thursday. However, the fallout continues.
Notably, now-interim GM Patrik Allvin was also blindsided by the resignation. And Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was a touch sentimental about Rutherford and seemed to be personally affected by Rutherford’s departure.
It should be noted the upheaval within the Penguins organization over the past 12 months. Gone were long-time contributors Mark Recchi and Jacques Martin. Long-time Rutherford AGM Jason Karmanos and the organization split in the offseason. The myriad of assistant GMs, which was once a dream team with Tom Fitzgerald, Karmanos, Bill Guerin, and Jason Botterill, was whittled to none until Allvin was promoted following Karmanos’s departure.
Allvin will rely on owner Mario Lemieux “as a backup,” but there is no longer the robust staff that helped build the 2016 and 2017 championship teams.
Allvin confirmed he didn’t see the resignation coming, either.
“We talked (Wednesday) morning regarding a couple of our teams, potential transactions, and around 11:30 a.m., he called me…” Allvin said. “He told me he was resigning. I was surprised. Later, I got a call from (Penguins president) David Morehouse.”
Lest you thought this was a bubbling possibility, or there was a flashpoint, not even Allvin knew it was coming. The interim GM has only been on the job for months, but the Penguins head coach has worked closely with Rutherford since 2015.
It was Rutherford who gave Sullivan his first head-coaching job in a decade. Rutherford initially hired Sullivan to coach the WBS Penguins as Mike Johnston was the Pittsburgh Penguins coach. However, by November, the situation in Pittsburgh was deteriorating quickly.
Sullivan got the tap, and the rest is history.
“Jim and I developed a great relationship in the time we worked together. We’ve been through a lot together. We were very much in sync about how the day-to-day operations of the team ran,” Sullivan said. “Jim is a great communicator. He’s a great listener, a great mentor. His resume speaks for itself.”
But Sullivan wasn’t done with the superlatives.
“I think he’s the best general manager in hockey,” Sullivan smiled.
Now, Sullivan will work with Allvin in the immediate and find himself with a new boss soon. PHN will be the first to tentatively ask the question–Will a new GM want “his own man” behind the bench, or will the Penguins make Mike Sullivan a condition of the hire?
Both things are common in hockey.
The grimaces and the smiles from Sullivan punctuated the coach speak he typically uses. Allvin is also a candidate to become the Penguins permanent GM, though the process is barely 24 hours old.
But the surprise or shock of the decision clearly left a mark.
“It’s hard. We’re all human. We build relationships over time. When you’re speaking with respect to Jim, Jim and I have developed a great friendship through our working relationship with the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Sullivan said. “…I can’t say enough about how much respect I have for him as a professional, but he’s a good friend.”
“It’s…it’s…hard,” Sullivan shrugged.
Perhaps the only person who had an inkling Rutherford could step aside was Morehouse, who only learned of Rutherford’s intention on Tuesday night. The Penguins signed defenseman Yannick Weber on Wednesday morning, and Rutherford was figuratively out the door.
In a sign of the Penguins’ current luck with defensemen, Weber was caught in a snowstorm en route to Boston and will not be available on Thursday. Top-pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin will be out week-to-week.
It’s been that kind of helter-skelter season for the Penguins, already. They lost two, then won four in a row, including three in overtime.
The Penguins wild ride is never short on drama, but no one saw this bend coming. PHN analyzed the early favorites for the Penguins GM job here (PHN+) As well as examined the situation and big problems Rutherford left behind (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)