Veteran NHL executive Jim Rutherford knows his stress-free days are gone now that he’s taken over the Vancouver Canucks.
Being named the team’s president is a special opportunity, he said, but one that comes with its fair share of challenges.
“I like stress, especially at my age,” the 72-year-old joked on Monday.
Rutherford was named president of the Canucks (12-15-2) on Thursday, days after the club fired head coach Travis Green and number of front-office staff, including general manager Jim Benning.
The former NHL goaltender was general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2014 to 2021 and led the team to back-to-back championships in 2016 and ‘17. He was also Carolina’s GM for 20 years, and saw the Hurricanes win the Cup in 2006.
Rutherford, who hails from Beeton, Ont., was named the league’s general manager of the year in 2016 and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category in 2019.
“Jim was the top of my list of candidates to come in and turn this franchise around. I’m thrilled that he not only accepted the job but really embraced it,” Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said Monday. “His job is to bring a winning team, bring in a winning culture … to build a leadership team that can bring a Stanley Cup to Vancouver.”
The Canucks struggled to start this season, going 6-14-2 across the first 22 games. A number of stars struggled offensively, including centre Elias Pettersson and right-winger Brock Boeser.
Culture was an issue throughout the organization, Aquilini said.
“It’s a winning attitude. Culture is a collective belief. It’s a standard. It’s a bar that you set, and you say everybody has to meet this standard and I just felt we just didn’t have that,” he said, adding that he wanted to “clean the slate” so Rutherford could start over.
The Canucks are a better team than they showed over the first 20 games, Rutherford said.
“I certainly saw a lot in this franchise and the Canucks brand that I decided that I’m going to take on the challenge. And I understand that it’s a challenge. We all know that,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work to be done here. So that’s why I’m here. I’m going to give it my best and I’m going to do my best to change the culture and get to a point where we have a consistent playoff team that can grow into a contender and give us a chance to get to the ultimate goal.”
Rutherford was also named Vancouver’s interim general manager and will lead the search for a replacement. He’s already compiled a list of 40 candidates and put them in various categories, such as potential GM and potential AGM, and would like to hire one assistant general manager this week.
“I’m not here to be the general manager, but I’m capable of doing the job,” Rutherford said. “I would like to get somebody in place sooner than later but if it’s not in the near future, it’s OK. We want to try to get it right.”
Vancouver has already made one major move, bringing in veteran NHL coach Bruce Boudreau to replace Green behind the bench.
The team is 4-0-0 under Boudreau, but the Canucks are still second-last in the Pacific Division and sit six points out of a playoff spot.
Rutherford had not yet accepted a job with the Canucks before Boudreau was hired, but said he spoke with Aquilini about the decision and told the owner he “most definitely” approved.
“I like Bruce a lot,” the newly minted president said. “Him and I have known each other probably for 50 years. We hung out a little bit in our younger days. We always kidded that we’d like to work together someday. We just didn’t know it was going to take forever to do it.”
Boudreau previously coached the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, and is exactly what Vancouver needed after a difficult start to the season, Rutherford added.
“I just think based on what happened the first part of the season that having a guy like Bruce — where he gives the players a lot of confidence and makes them feel good about themselves — was really the right guy at the right time for this organization,” he said. “A guy that can motivate and motivate and get those guys back to feeling as good as they should be.”
In Pittsburgh, Rutherford was known as GM who liked to make trades and he said he’s already received calls from colleagues who are interested in some of Vancouver’s players.
While he’s open to making moves if “something pretty good comes along,” Rutherford said he’s not in a hurry to put his stamp on the Canucks’ roster via a trade.
“I want to be careful with our trades,” he said. “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, and the trades we make, I’d prefer that we’re gaining some age on it, so as we move along, if it takes a couple of years to bring it together to be more of a contender, then we got the right age group that they can come together.”
The Canucks will close out a six-game homestand on Tuesday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets.
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press