Jim Rutherford has been in the business of hockey for a long time. He played thirteen seasons in the NHL as a goalie and has been this team's President & General Manager since 1994. Rutherford helped the team transition from the Hartford Whalers to the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997 and has constructed teams that have reached the Eastern Conference Finals three times, the Stanley Cup Finals twice and won the Stanley Cup in 2006. But with him as General Manager, the Whalers/Hurricanes have only reached the postseason five times out of fifteen, not too impressive there.
While Rutherford has a quiet demeanor, he is a fierce competitor and Peter Karmanos once described him as "a ball of fire." He is an intelligent man that generally has been described as a tough negotiator. With the recent Sekera trade fresh on everyone’s mind, I thought it might be interesting to see how the negotiator has fared in his trades over the past five seasons. Is he a GM that maximizes his assets or he does more often than not get the short end of the stick? Is he the same GM he was five seasons ago? So here are the thirty-three trades that Jim Rutherford has made since July 1st, 2008. I have included a little snippet of each trade and a summary of the trades each season.
· Carolina trades Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar and a 2009 conditional 4th Round Pick (later forfeited) to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Jussi Jokinen. Highway robbery by JR, getting the struggling, more talented player for scrap pieces.
· Carolina trades Justin Williams to the Los Angeles Kings for Patrick O’Sullivan and a 2009 2nd Round Pick (Brian Dumoulin). Then trades Patrick O’Sullivan and a 2009 2nd Round Pick (Jesse Blacker) to the Edmonton Oilers for Erik Cole and a 2009 5th Round Pick (Matt Kennedy). A quality playoff push move that also didn’t subtract future assets and actually added one.
This was the Canes last season they reached the playoffs and based off the moves Rutherford made, you could see why they played beyond the regular season. The Pitkanen/Cole trade addressed a need for a top-level defenseman and Joni had his best overall year in Carolina. It was a pretty even trade at the time, but it worked out a lot better for the Canes. The Jussi trade could go down as one of JR’s best ever. Tampa was a mess that season and Jokinen was struggling under the new coach, even placed on waivers. But Rutherford ended up getting the significantly more talented player for a couple of scrap pieces and Jussi worked himself out of his funk. Then the big three team trade that essentially saw the Canes give up an injured Williams for Cole and a 5th. Williams was probably the best player in that deal, but he wasn’t the same player since returning from injury and really wouldn’t get back to being that player until the 10/11 season. Cole helped the team get into the playoffs and they picked up a higher 2nd than they gave away to go along with the 5th they got from Edmonton. Overall, three very solid moves by Rutherford, it was the GM at his best.
· Carolina trades Niclas Wallin and a 2010 5th Round Pick (Cody Ferriero) to the San Jose Sharks for a 2010 2nd Round Pick (Mark Alt). A cost savings and low pick to move up and improve your chances in the draft.
· Carolina trades Matt Cullen to the Ottawa Senators for Alexandre Picard and a 2010 2nd Round Pick (later traded). Salary dump and acquisition of a good draft pick which much later turned into a contributor.
· Carolina trades a 2010 6th Round Pick (Jesper Fast) and a 2011 2nd Round Pick (Tyler Wotherspoon) to the New York Rangers for Bobby Sanguinetti. Maybe a slight overpayment, but JR got a more ready NHL prospect for a good draft pick and a throw in pick.
The Canes had high hopes for this season based on the way the previous one ended. Rutherford went out and added some veteran bodies in hope of making another run at the Stanley Cup. Some injuries occurred, coupled with poor performance and a long winless streak, hope quickly turn into disaster. With the playoffs out of the question, JR turned his attention to getting some assets for expiring contracts. Many of the moves were average at best, but one that seemed slightly above average at the time turned into quite the move. Rutherford turned his stretch of a 1st Round Pick, Philippe Paradis into Jiri Tlusty, who went on to lead the Canes in goals last season. After the Carolina season ended, JR’s focus turned to exchanging picks for more NHL-ready prospects. A couple of those moves resulted in Bobby Sanguinetti, Riley Nash and Jared Staal. All three of those players contributed to the Canes last season and Nash is expected to see more time with the NHL squad this upcoming season. Overall, it wasn’t trades of the quality of the year before, but there were some decent moves in there. Some of these trades could prove to be better if some of the prospects that were drafted become NHLers in the future.
· Carolina trades Matt Kennedy and Stephane Chaput to the Anaheim Ducks for Ryan Carter. Moving some minor AHL parts for a lower level NHL contributor.
· Carolina trades Ian White to the San Jose Sharks for a 2012 2nd Round Pick (Brock McGinn). Trying to get something for a trade acquisition that really didn’t fit.
· Carolina trades "future considerations" to the San Jose Sharks for Derek Joslin. A low risk move trying to address a need and not giving up anything for him.
The Canes again started a little slow, but turned it around after the New Year and were fighting for the last playoff spot. Rutherford didn’t make nearly the amount of moves he did the year before, but made a couple trying to get this team in the playoffs. All they had to do is win their final game or have the Rangers lose theirs, neither happened. The moves JR made this season were solid, but not really spectacular. White and Carter were acquired, didn’t work out and eventually were traded in the same season. Stillman was very good in his time with Carolina, as was Allen who stuck around for the following season. Overall, you can’t really complain about the trades that occurred, but they didn’t accomplish the task of getting the team into the playoffs either.
· Carolina trades Joe Corvo to the Boston Bruins for a 2012 4th Round Pick (Trevor Carrick). A disgruntled player forced JR’s hand and maximum value probably wasn’t obtained.
This is where Rutherford’s trades start turning a little south. He has handcuffed by Corvo, but you would still think he could have gotten a little more value from a player that was in the top 25 in the league in scoring by a defenseman. The Kaberle signing was possibly one of JR’s worst, but he pulled some magic out of his hat and got the Habs to take the contract for an expiring one. The Dadonov trade was an experiment that didn’t work, but didn’t really cost anything either. Ponikarovsky was brought in as part of a replacement for Cole. It really didn’t work out great, but he had more value that just Sova. Poni went to Jersey and actually performed quite well for the Devils. Then the trade that made you scream for happiness or disappointment. JR acquired Jordan Staal, but gave up a fan favorite, a top defensive prospect and a top 10 draft pick. Jordan was clearly the best player in the deal, but the return for Pittsburgh was extensive. Overall, there are some questions about this season’s trades. Rutherford seemed to not get enough value in return or he overpaid.
· Carolina trades Anthony Stewart, a 2013 4th Round Pick (Kyle Platzer) and a 2014 6th Round Pick to Los Angeles for Kevin Westgarth. A clear overpayment for a fighting 4th liner, but it was also a salary dump for Carolina.
· Carolina trades Jussi Jokinen to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2013 conditional 7th Round Pick (later forfeited). A desperate salary dump that resulted in giving away a decent player for nothing.
The shorten NHL season saw Rutherford act desperate in his trades. Stewart was a failed signing, but to give him up and two draft picks for a tough guy 4th liner is an extreme overpayment. Then to move a veteran defenseman and prospect for an AHL/ECHL player was another poor asset management job. Do you think the Canes just might have been able to use Boucher as some point in the season with the goaltender injuries and Peters performance? The Jokinen trade was just bad; JR treated Jussi like he had the plague and ended up getting nothing in return for him. And actually ended up keeping $900K of his salary to play for a future division rival. While I am not a fan of Sekera, the move has its merits. Sekera is a defensive improvement over McBain and is in fact cheaper (actual salary). But the trade was a big overpayment by JR. The 2nd round pick in this past draft was a quality pick; another asset coming back to Carolina would have made everything a little more palatable. Overall, I think this was a poor asset management season for Rutherford. He was busy trying to correct previous season signings and did not do a good job of maximizing value of his assets.
If you really look at the Rutherford’s past five seasons of trades, you have to admit that the value level is getting worse. He has gone from trading an injured player & 2nd Round Pick for a quality power forward, a better 2nd Round Pick & a 5th Round Pick to moving a decent defenseman for a solid draft pick to giving away a couple of mid-level draft picks just to dump a salary and get an often healthy scratched fighter. Being a good NHL GM is about asset management and get a maximum return for your assets. These are things the Rutherford is not doing well over the past year/year & a half. Has JR lost his touch or is this just a bad stretch? Is it time for Ron Francis to take over more of the GM duties. I’m not advocating firing Jim Rutherford, but unless he starts turning things around, it might be time for such a move.