Trib staffer Jason Mackey transcribed the news conference Friday when CEO David Morehouse announced Jim Rutherford as the Penguins’ 10th general manager.
Q: Your team had missed the playoffs the last five years in Carolina. What do you think the reasons were for that? Also you mentioned complete change with the GM and coach. You’ve promoted three people who are part of Ray Shero’s inner-circle to new positions. Why that decision if they wanted complete change?
JR: When I say complete change, it’s really the main decision-makers, OK? As you saw, I didn’t address the assistant coaching staff. One thing that I have done with them is given them permission to talk to other teams, if they wish. But if they wish to not move on until a head coach is announced, they’re more than welcome to do that. The head coach is going to make decision — who his assistants are.
As for the Hurricanes missing over the last five years, I have reasons and I know what they were. Certainly our goaltending issues with injuries over the past couple of years have been key. For the most part, we played right down to the stretch, right down to the last game in some seasons as far as not making it. We’ve had competitive teams there.
Clearly the business model between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins is different, OK? You’ve been around long enough, you can figure out what I’m saying. I have nothing but respect for the Hurricanes and the growth of hockey in Carolina. I think they’re on the right track. But for me to start picking out different players and whatnot doesn’t make sense at this point.
Q: What type of coach do you look for — style of play and all that? And to David: Do you regret the initial thought to keep Bylsma?
DM: Yeah, we talked about that when we talked about Ray. We wanted to systematically look at the whole organization from top to bottom. We didn’t want to make hasty decisions. We went through a process over the course of three weeks, and we came to a conclusion. I don’t regret anything; I think we actually had a very thorough process. As I said before, we talked to over 22 people, we looked at 30 different resumes, we talked to people about people. We talked to people internally, about what was going on within the organization. We talked to people about what they thought needed to happen to make the organization better. And I think through that process is how we got to where we are today. I think it’s a good place where we are today.
JR: Okay, I forgot your question. No I didn’t. No I didn’t. I have a short list of coaches in mind, OK? The coach is going to have to adjust to the style of players that we have. Because with the talent level of the Penguins, the Penguins can play whatever way you want. But certainly with the teams that we ultimately have to compete with, we’re going to have to have a coach who can make the proper adjustments during a game or a certain period of time in the regular season or during a playoff series. Obviously the Penguins can score and can score in bunches, but based on looking at the Penguins from a distance, because that’s where I was, I don’t think that they could make the proper adjustments against certain teams. So that’s going to be a key factor when I’m looking at a head coach.
Then it’s going to be important to the chemistry of the head coach. If the head coach is a certain way, we may need an X and Os guy as a head coach and a motivator as an assistant coach or vice-versa. But we have to get a good mix of guys.
Q: How important is the timeline of the coaching search? Would you like to have someone in place before the draft and free agency begins? Also, are you comfortable that you have complete control in every hockey decision that gets made?
JR: I’m very comfortable with my position and that I have complete control. I am a guy who likes to communicate, and I’ll have full communication with the executive committee, the board and Ron and Mario. It was one thing that I talked to Ron about. I know he’s not here a lot, but he says how do you deal with the owner? I deal with the owner the way he wants me to. If he wants to talk to me, he needs to call me. OK? So that’s not an issue. Very comfortable with the control that I have to make decisions. Did I miss part of your question?
Not necessarily by the draft but certainly by the time free agency comes. Free agency this year for the Penguins may not be as exciting because we’re up against, you know, if we’re signing the players we want and keeping some players, we’re up against the cap. But we’re still going to look at free agency to see if there’s ways to make some changes on the team.
Q: Do you feel the decision on Dan Bylsma had been made when you took the job, and if not was it your recommendation that he be fired?
JR: I took the information from the people who were here. I didn’t have several meetings with Dan to get to know him and evaluate him or take his side of the story. The answer to your question is I took the information over the last week with the couple of meetings that I had, and we agreed that making a change was the right thing to do.
Q: You mentioned Sid and Geno. Can you talk about why, at this point in your career, this was the right opportunity for you?
JR: Well, five weeks ago I decided to step down with the Hurricanes. I did both jobs there. It became very difficult over the last two or three years. It really wore on me. When I stepped down, I stepped down willing to move further from the game but still be a little bit involved … but with an open mind that if somebody called me that I would consider going somewhere if I felt I had a chance to win a championship. I have one Stanley Cup. I have two Eastern Conference trophies. But there’s no feeling — as everybody in here knows — like winning the ultimate prize. I believe we can do it here. So, you have to have top players. You have to have key players. You have to have goaltending. You have to have coaching. You have to have all those things. And my job now is to come in and change some of those things that we need to strengthen in order to get to the end.
Q: Is the plan here to mentor the associate and assistant GMs? And concerning analytics, how did you use them in Carolina?
JR: Well, I feel that we have two or three guys here who are very close to becoming general managers. What I will is give them big roles, a lot to say and a lot of input into my final decisions. But at the same time, I know that I’m mentoring them. I would suspect — I mean, nobody knows what’s going to happen — but I would suspect that this term for me is probably two or three years here. It’s going to be up to ownership as to who replaces me, but certainly I will get to know these guys better, and I will recommend what goes on in the future. Especially Jason. He’s been here a long time. He’s a very bright guy. He knows the game. I know that he’s getting very close.
The analytics are very interesting. If you do it properly — it’s not like baseball; baseball is an individual sport, and you can either hit the ball or you can’t or you can pitch the ball a certain way or you can’t. In hockey, it’s a team sport. When you’re using those analytics, there are things that analytics are going to point out to you that your hockey people don’t see. So I take those points, whether it’s good or bad with a player, then I go back and start questioning the hockey people. Are we not seeing this? The analytics aren’t always right, and we’re not always right. It’s a great sounding board, really. Being a guy who has been around as long as I have, some people are probably surprised that I use analytics. But I’ve used them for a few years now, and I can tell you that they really do make a difference.
Q: Can you talk about how you’ve seen this city change as a hockey market? And what is your vision of what a team needs to be to win the Stanley Cup?
JR: One thing hasn’t changed from Pittsburgh, and I always see this when I visit Pittsburgh. That’s why I’m excited about being back is the people are great. The people are very friendly. That’s the thing I remembered from long ago when I played here.
As for the city, the downtown as changed, a lot of things have changed. As for the team, obviously the Penguins have changed dramatically when they drafted Mario, then Mario retired, and they got Sidney, then they got Malkin. To have the star power for a market like this, I think is great. It makes the team exciting. It makes people want to watch it. And it gives you a chance to win a championship.
One of the key things in my opinion to winning the Stanley Cup is you have to be really strong down the middle. We have a really good head start at that. OK? Do you play in a series that you roll four lines? It depends how many injuries you have. It depends what team you’re playing. It depends how good their fourth line is. I will say I think our supporting cast has to be improved. I look at our fourth-line players and some of those guys are double-digit minuses. You can’t have that. You have to have energy on your fourth line. You have to have penalty killers. And you certainly have guys who are capable of playing defensively and not costing you that much on goals against. Like I said, the key is down the middle. We have a great start.
Q: Can you elaborate on Bill Guerin’s role? Have you worked with a guy who has filled this role previously in your career?
JR: Yeah, Ronnie (Francis) did it with us for a few years. The communication a lot of times with the players, it wasn’t me going directly to a player; it would be Ronnie. They had a trust level with him. It’s the same with Bill. Not long ago he was a player. I would suspect here that the players like him. It becomes a trust level.
If you’re going to deal with issues — not that the players are going to make decisions or run the team — but they have to speak up. They may have a personal problem going on. They may not be feeling good. There are so many things that happen that we all forget about. We watch a player play for a month and say, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ Well, there’s usually a reason. Having a guy who’s around the players a little bit more who’s not the boss, I think makes it easier for the players to communicate.
Q: David, did you at any point, you or Mario or Ron, offer the job or (have) a contract discussion or anything else to anybody other than the gentleman standing next to you?
DM: No, absolutely not.
Q: When you look at the Penguins’ top two lines or forwards as a whole, what do you see as far as grit and character and how will you address it as GM?
JR: Well, I see the top six guys are very talented players. But from a character point of view or a leadership point of view, I really don’t know until I get through training camp and get into the season a month or so and get up to Thanksgiving. Give it a little time. Looking at it from the outside, I suspect that we have good character in that room, but it’s quiet. It’s a quiet approach where you don’t have one or two guys who can stand up in the room and say, ‘This is what’s really going on.’ From a character point of view, I don’t think there’s an issue. But to have someone who’s a little more vocal, or a couple of guys, I suspect that’s probably needed.
Q: Your partnership/ownership in Carolina, what happens with that?
JR: I have a conflict right now because I have an ownership stake with the Hurricanes, which I invested my own money. (Hurricanes CEO) Pete Karmanos has a meeting with the league on Tuesday. He’s going to get a clarification on that. I would suspect the league is going to say you can’t do that. Which is fine with me. Get my money back.
Q: To Morehouse, if Jason Botteril and Tom Fitzgerald interviewed, how much of that process led to the decisions with their roles?
DM: We said we were going to talk to the internal candidates. We didn’t talk about the external candidates. So, yes, we did talk to them. Yes, they were very seriously considered. Their body of work speaks for itself. They’re both very good people. They’re going to make great general managers. We thought long and hard about it until a couple days ago. It was very well-thought out that someone of Jim’s credentials and reputation … we’ve seen him in Board of Governors meetings. We’ve watched him operate. Mario knows him. We’ve very fortunate to have someone like Jim Rutherford interested in coming to Pittsburgh and helping us. We’re even more fortunate that we have people like Tom Fitzgerald and Jason Botteril and Billy Guerin around him to help him. I think we put a really strong team together of the utmost character and capabilities.