As I attended the press conference on Monday where the Carolina Hurricanes announced the promotion of Ron Francis to General Manager, I could not help but feel a bit nostalgic, even if I had not been around the full 20 years of Jim Rutherford's career.
Many memories went through my mind, including the Stanley Cup win in 2006, the unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, and the defining moment for the franchise as they lost to the New Jersey Devils in the playoffs in 2001.
I could only imagine what was going through Rutherford's mind.
Always the gentleman, the former goalie mentioned how proud he was to be a part of the NHL for so long and he went on to thank a long list of colleagues and friends. Rutherford later said that he brought a kleenex in his pocket, just in case emotions got the best of him, but he composed himself well, just as he has throughout his term as Carolina GM.
When I had a chance to speak to the GM during the one-on-one's, I asked him if after 20 years of trades, signings, and other tough decisions, did he have any regrets?
"I have no regrets, none", he said. "I gave this job everything I had. Are there some decisions that I made I would like to have a mulligan on? Yes, maybe. When you have been doing this job as long as I have, there are always some things that could be argued. For instance the Ruutu - Ladd trade. At the time, Ladd was hurt a lot, although he was a good player, but we were desperate for help at center ice and Ruutu was a two-position player, so that is why we made that trade. You can debate it whether it was good or bad, like any trade, but at the time we made it, we had valid reasons. But I don't have any regrets. I gave 100% of my life to this job."
While Rutherford emphasized that he will no longer be involved in any decision making for this organization, he did not rule out doing it for another franchise.
Even though he will stay on as President of the Hurricanes, no one will report to him, including Francis.
"He will be his own man, make his own decisions, this is his hockey team now and he is very well equipped to lead it." Rutherford repeated when asked about possibly helping out the new GM.
When asked if he would miss making the day-to-day decisions, he said that "time will tell".
"Right now, I'm in a good place. I have been very happy over the past couple of months when I knew where this was headed. I just had a couple of great weeks go by here as I have been more relaxed. But I wonder if three, four, or six months from now, will that itch be there? I've competed all my life, as a player and as a manager. Will the itch still be there, or will it be easy to walk in the other direction. I will face it when the time comes. But even if that changes in my mind, nothing will change with the Hurricanes. This move has been made and we are moving in that direction. But, we'll see what the next chapter brings."
He was then asked point blank if he might accept a general manager job somewhere else. Rutherford responded that he is still under contract with the Canes for two years and would not talk about that. He is very pleased with how this process went, he is very happy now, and very proud.
Later during lunch, Rutherford was asked by someone if he was still going to live in the area, to which he responded, "for now."
I left the arena thinking that while the former general manager might be proud and happy today, perhaps we have not yet heard the end of him as a general manager in this league.
Whether he rides off into the sunset and enjoys retirement, or accepts an opportunity somewhere else, we wish him the best and thank him for all the great hockey memories in Raleigh.