TORONTO — Mario Lemieux said he knew roughly an hour into his initial interview with Jim Rutherford more than five years ago that the right guy to be the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins was sitting across from him.
“The way he carried himself in the interview, very confident,” Lemieux said from the red carpet prior to the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019 induction ceremony Monday. “We knew we had our man.”
Winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017 was certainly validation enough but watching Rutherford get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder served as further proof that Lemieux, co-owner Ron Burkle and team president David Morehouse were correct in their analysis of Rutherford in that interview.
Rutherford joined Boston College coach Jerry York as the inductees in the Builder’s category as part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, which also featured players Hayley Wickenheiser, Vaclav Nedomansky, Sergei Zubov and Guy Carbonneau.
“Jim is a good friend of mine, good friend of our family and the whole Pittsburgh Penguins organization,” Lemieux said. “He deserves it. He’s had a [heck] of a career starting in juniors way back, then with the [Hartford] Whalers and Carolina [Hurricanes], winning a Cup there. Coming to Pittsburgh, we were lucky enough to hire him a few years ago. He said he was coming to Pittsburgh to have a chance to win another Cup, and he won us two. He’s very deserving, and we’re all happy for him.”
Rutherford, who built the Carolina team that won the Cup in 2006, was hired by the Penguins on June 6, 2014, less than two months after he left the Hurricanes.
In 2016, he became the first general manager to win the Stanley Cup with two teams since the 1967 NHL expansion. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup again in 2017, becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
“It’s a special night when you’re inducted and a special night also to be here and share it with Jim Rutherford, his family and all the Penguins staff that are here,” Lemieux said.