Hockey / Sports

New Penguins GM has short list of candidates to replace Bylsma

PITTSBURGH -- Jim Rutherford is the Pittsburgh Penguins' new general manager.

And Dan Bylsma is no longer the team's coach.

Rutherford was introduced Friday as the franchise's executive vice president and 10th GM. He marked his first day on the job by firing Bylsma, who has two years left on his contract.

Rutherford replaces Ray Shero, who had been the GM since May 2006. Shero was fired because ownership said it wanted to change the direction in which the franchise was moving. The Penguins have had disappointing playoff runs in each of the past five years.

On Friday, Rutherford readily acknowledged that he doesn't view his new job as a long-term position.

"I would suspect the term for me is probably two or three years here," said Rutherford, whose contract is believed to cover three seasons.

Jason Botterill, who had been serving as interim GM since Shero was fired May 16, was promoted Friday from assistant GM to associate GM, and is directly behind Rutherford in the line of succession.

"He's a very bright guy and he knows the game," Rutherford said. "I know that he's getting very close (to being ready to be a GM)."

Rutherford, 65, completed a 20-year run as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes in April and was settling into a role as team president when the Penguins approached him nine days ago about succeeding Shero.

The possibility appealed to him.

"This is a job that most GMs would like to have," Rutherford said, describing himself as "very fortunate at this point in my career that I've been given this opportunity."

Rutherford said he has a short list of three to six candidates to take over as coach and while he said he'd be willing to expand the list, he seemed skeptical that it will be necessary.

"I don't think I'll extend it to being real long, because if I get through those first three or four interviews, and I like one of the guys in the top three, I'm probably going to end it there," he said.

Rutherford said he plans to begin interviewing candidates on June 16 -- "My plate is totally full until then" -- and hopes to have a coach by the start of player free agency July 1.

Although upper management had stressed that Bylsma's fate would be left to the new GM, Rutherford suggested the issue had largely been dealt with before he took over.

"I took the information over the last week with the couple of meetings I had (with top-level team officials) and we agree that making the change was the right thing to do," he said.

Bylsma, the winningest coach in franchise history with a record of 252-117-32, could not be reached for comment.

Rutherford said he and the next coach will determine who, if anyone, from Bylsma's staff -- assistants Jacques Martin, Tony Granato and Todd Reirden, goalie coach Mike Bales and video coordinator Andy Saucier -- will be retained. All, he added, are free to seek employment elsewhere.

In addition to giving Rutherford and Botterill new titles, the Penguins promoted Tom Fitzgerald to assistant GM after a stint as assistant to the GM and Bill Guerin, who was serving as player development coach, to assistant GM.

Rutherford made it clear there will be changes to on-ice personnel before next season, as well, and not only because the Penguins have just 14 players under contract, with roughly $11 million of salary-cap space left to fill out the roster.

That doesn't guarantee high-impact trades are imminent.

Rutherford was adamant that he is not eager to part with defenseman Kris Letang, whose $7.25 million cap hit takes effect in 2014-15.

"I know his name gets thrown out there, people like to start rumors, but this is an extremely good player," he said. "I don't have any urgency (to deal him)."

He also declined to criticize defenseman Rob Scuderi, who had a disappointing season after rejoining the Penguins as a free agent in 2013.

"I know he didn't play as well here last year, but you can't always go, based on one year," he said. "Sometimes it's one year off and then they're back on track. He's a key factor in this."

Rutherford, a former Penguins goaltender, said he would have no qualms about going forward with Marc-Andre Fleury, whose contract is entering its final year, as his go-to goaltender.

"I think he's a very good goalie," he said. "He's coming off probably his best and most consistent year over the last four years, which to me is a very good sign that he's not tracking the other way, year after year."

Although Rutherford expressed concern about the early season makeup of the Penguins' defense -- "We have some very good young defensemen coming, but how much of a workload do you want to put on them, and how many do you want to put in all at once?" -- and the quality of their fourth line, he seemed optimistic that a major overhaul is not called for.

"I don't think we have all the pieces here to get back to where the Penguins were in (2009, when they won the Stanley Cup)," he said. "But with some changes -- they don't have to be sweeping changes -- we can do this in the very near future."

(c)2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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