Q & A with Jim Rutherford
Posted June 21, 2010
Updated June 22, 2010
Jim Rutherford was scanning through video of pro prospects on Monday, emphasizing the importance of the the upcoming draft.
The players he picks on Friday and Saturday will have every chance to make an immediate impact on the franchise.
The team is getting younger, the budget is smaller and the Hurricanes have 11 draft picks--more than any NHL team. Rutherford hopes one or more of those newcomers can earn a spot on the Canes' NHL roster by the end of the season.
The Hurricanes President and General Manager spoke to WRAL about a number of topics during a stage of transition for the organization.
What are you looking for in the draft?
For the most part, we’re going to draft the best player available, which is in our opinion based on the scout’s list. As we go further into the draft, we’ll start to fill in areas that we need. We’ve got a lot of good young forwards now and a couple of good young goalies coming, so if we can build up some depth on defense in the organization—and when I say that, you may not see these defensemen for three or four years—but at the same time, you’ve got to start the process. I think at some point in the draft, we’ll probably get two or three defensemen.
Is there a hesitation to draft a defenseman early?
It depends. Certainly the way I view it, a lot of the defensemen who are taken in the first round usually become good defensemen when they’re on their second team…
There are some defensemen that have been taken in the draft that have stayed with their teams and have gone on to be very good defensemen, but I do have a little more caution at the upper end of the draft when I look at defensemen.
With the seventh pick in the first round, any thoughts in the organization of trading up?
We’re like all other teams. We poke around, but I’m not aggressively trying to move up or move down. The price is pretty high to move up. We’ve gone through the pain of acquiring all these draft picks. We have the most picks of any other NHL team going into the draft. That’s not necessarily a good thing because it meant that we went through a tough year, which we just did. But at the same time, that’s behind us now. We have the draft picks, and we sit in a very good position.
Team owner Peter Karmanos is looking for an ownership partner. How does that affect your job?
I think it affects everybody. We all get a little bit anxious when we look at that situation as to what changes will be brought about with a new investor, whether it’s a partner or whether it’s someone who comes in and wants the whole team. As for my job, from a hockey point of view, it doesn’t change. Obviously, we’re in a position where we have a different business model this year. We have a low payroll closer to the [NHL salary] floor that we’ve ever had. At the same time, we’ve got very good young players who can come in and start the transition into building another winning team and get back to the Stanley Cup.
As for the draft, with Mr. Karmanos looking for a new partner, it really doesn’t change anything. These are building blocks as to the future of this franchise. The Hurricanes have a chance this weekend of putting very big building blocks in place for the future, which we’re excited about.
What is the team’s budget for this season?
The floor for NHL teams this year will be between $43-44 million so I would suspect our payroll will be somewhere between $43-45 million.
Can this franchise make a profit without making the playoffs?
Yes. The business model that we have now—based on what’s been laid out—with a non-playoff team, we will make a profit. When you’re looking for new investors or a new owner, you want to show someone this is a model that you can make a decision on. Most people that invest millions of dollars want a business that makes money and not lose money…
This is a very, very solid franchise here and a very, very solid market. What we’re doing this year is showing investors the different options and how you can go about it. Mr. Karmanos over the years has put millions and millions of dollars into this franchise. Even in years where it looked like we were drawing a lot of people and doing well, we were still losing some money. When we won the Stanley Cup, we obviously turned a profit. But even in years when we’ve had good run like we did last year [in 2009] into the conference finals, it was still a year that we lost money.
Is there a challenge to show fans that, in recent years, other teams with low payrolls have still had good seasons?
We have a very loyal fan base. Our fans understand the game and understand exactly what we’re doing. I don’t think we can use this business model year after year and be a team that spends to the floor two, three, four, five years in a row. I don’t think that’s going to work. I do believe that if the right things happen, if our best players are our best players and are healthy, I believe this team can be competitive. Will it make the playoffs? I can sit here and tell you if we were at the cap, you may not make the playoffs. Lots of teams that spend to the cap [don't make they playoffs] because it’s hard to make the playoffs in the National Hockey League. It’s almost harder to make it into the playoffs than it is to take a good run in the playoffs. With the players that we’re looking at bringing back, and if our best players play like our best players, this team can still be competitive this year.
What’s the latest on the Rod Brind’Amour situation?
No update yet. We’re obviously getting down to the finish line on this if in fact there’s a change made from the organization’s decision that we wouldn’t bring Rod back. We would have to make that decision prior to July 1. He has the right to make decisions any time he wants. The communication’s been good. We’ve talked through different scenarios, and we’re going to have to bring some closure to this by July 1 if there’s a change made.
You make difficult personnel decisions. How much more difficult is it when dealing with someone like Rod who was the face of the franchise and the captain on the Stanley Cup team?
If this becomes an organizational decision that we don’t bring Rod back, this will be clearly the toughest decision I have to make since I’ve been the general manager. I always have to make tough decisions, unpopular ones at times, but somebody has to do it. So, if it’s an organizational decision that we’re going to go in a different direction, this would be very difficult and not one that I’m comfortable with. If it’s his decision or it’s a decision that Rod comes back for another year that we feel he can play a part in this transition and the building blocks to build a winning team again, then I’m sure that would make everybody happy.
Does Rod have a spot in the organization whenever his playing time is over?
Absolutely. When Rod finishes playing with the Hurricanes, we would like for him to stay with the organization. We’ve had a lot of good fortune with this.
We have Jeff Daniels in the organization, Bobby Kron, obviously Ron Francis, Glen Wesley…so we know what Rod’s done for the Hurricanes, and we know what he can do in the future. This would not be just an ambassador position where he shakes hands and gets his picture taken with babies. He will have a prominent role with the Hurricanes when that time comes.
Is Ray Whitney’s situation one where he would like to come back but may not fit in with the team’s new tighter budget?
It boils down to money with Ray Whitney. He’s been a great player for us. He would like to stay here. We would like to keep him here. But based on what I offered Ray, he felt he could get more in free agency, and he’s going to go on and try and do that. If he doesn’t, the door will still be open. He can come back some time in July or August if he decides to do that. I would suspect that based on our offer and what I think he can get in free agency, he’s probably leaving.
What about the possibility of buying out Sergei Samsanov?
That is an organizational decision as to where he fits going forward. Part of these decisions will be made on what the player can do to help the team and the transition and build towards getting back to the Stanley Cup. Part of it will be financial with the position that we’re now in, transitioning into…our owner being in a position to get a real good partner to help us go forward.
What was it like watching Peter Laviolette and Michael Leighton advance to the Stanley Cup Final with the Flyers?
For me, we’re the ones who gave Michael Leighton a start. To see him excel the way he did, I was proud of him. We made a decision here. He wasn’t going to be the number one goalie with Cam Ward here. If he played that well for us, we couldn’t re-sign him at the end of the year so I was happy for him.
As for Peter, I have the utmost respect for him. That’s when Peter is at his best, when you get into the playoffs and bring a team together, and he did a great job doing that.
As a former goaltender, were you surprised at all by Leighton’s playoff performance?
Well, I think you have to look at the Michael Leighton situation in the overall picture of things. Michael played well. He had stretches where he went four or five games with us where he ran off some good games.
In my opinion, the success of the Flyers is when they saw they didn’t have what they would call their number one goalie playing, they changed their style and they tightened up so tight. They weren’t giving up hardly any rebounds. They were blocking a ton of shots. They weren’t letting teams get to the slot. When they did, Michael did a real good job. He made some real good saves. But when Boucher and Leighton became the Flyers goalies, they tightened up their whole system, and I believe that’s what got them to the finals.
Was it a conscious decision to increase the number of exhibition games from four last year to seven this season?
I don’t think the number of exhibition games last year cost us during the regular season. It cost us in the sense that if you’re going to only play four games, you should play all your regulars four games, and we didn’t. The fact that we want to look at younger players, and the fact that we didn’t play our regular players in all four games, we expanded that to six. At the end, after we had done all our preseason schedule, we got the European trip. The league asked us to go to St. Petersburg, Russia to play so we ended up with seven.
The reason I decided last year to go with four is because we had a good run the year before. We went to the conference finals and wanted to rest the players, but the players need to play at least four games in order to be ready for the regular season.
What is the difference between managing a roster full of veteran players and a young team where there are so many unknowns?
It’s a big difference. Usually, when you build your team with veterans, you’re expecting that team to do extremely well and have a good run in the playoffs. That’s what we’ve done in the past. We’ve built our teams up over the years. We built our team up in ’02 and went to the finals. We built the team up in ’06 and went to the finals and won the Stanley Cup. And we built a team up again in ’09 where we went to the conference finals and had a good run.
But now it’s time to really transition away from that team of veterans and into a youthful team and gradually, hopefully get better immediately. We do understand with a youthful team, it may not work that way, but we also understand there’s an upside and that team will get better. At some point in time, hopefully within the next couple of years, we can take another run at the Stanley Cup.