Jim Rutherford (Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan and Stars GM Jim Nill are all finalists for the GM of the Year Award. Each made major off-season trades to shape their team, but the mid-season tinkering by Rutherford may give him the edge.
The Penguins took a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference final with a convincing Game 3 victory on Wednesday night, and that means GM Jim Rutherford’s bunch is only two wins shy of winning the Eastern Conference and six victories away from taking home the Stanley Cup. As the architect of this team, though, Rutherford could be in line for some additional hardware at season’s end.
It was announced Wednesday that Rutherford has been named one of three finalists for the GM of the Year Award along with Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan and Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. Unlike other awards, the GM of the Year was voted on by GMs, executives and media members at the conclusion of the second round of the post-season, which helps take into account the impact deadline deals may have had on a club.
But even though that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine Rutherford doesn’t take home the hardware given what he managed ahead of the deadline.
In the off-season, the Penguins made one of the biggest acquisitions of the summer when Rutherford executed a blockbuster deal that saw Phil Kessel come to Pittsburgh along with Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs and a 2016 second-round pick in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling and first- and third-round picks in the 2016 draft. It was the deal of the off-season and one that had many anticipating a huge offensive season out of the Penguins.
Beyond adding Kessel, Rutherford also acquired Nick Bonino via a trade with the Canucks that sent Brandon Sutter to Vancouver, and the Penguins GM added additional pieces in Carl Hagelin and defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz.
Even with an impressive roster, though, Rutherford’s team struggled until a coaching change was made in mid-December which brought Mike Sullivan in as the team’s new bench boss. And Sullivan was the right coach at the right time. Since coming aboard, the Penguins have been one of the league’s best teams and a Stanley Cup favorite.
MacLellan, like Rutherford, also found his way into a finalist spot for the GM of the Year thanks to a trade early in free agency. The Capitals GM swung a deal that landed T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in 2016. Oshie had a stellar season with 26 goals and 51 points, but his best moment came during Game 1 of the post-season’s second round, when he scored a hat trick, including the OT winner, against the Penguins.
In addition to adding Oshie, MacLellan landed experienced veteran winger Justin Williams and signed former Kings center Mike Richards mid-season. The three major moves helped the Capitals lock up the Presidents’ Trophy before Washington fell in six games to Pittsburgh in Round Two.
Nill is the only Western Conference GM among the finalists, and he earned his spot thanks to two off-season deals, both of which pulled pieces from the Chicago Blackhawks to improve his Dallas Stars almost immediately.
The first was a trade, which brought Patrick Sharp, as well as prospect Stephen Johns, to the Stars in exchange for Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley, both of whom wouldn’t last in Chicago. Then Nill went out and signed free agent defenseman Johnny Oduya, who was coming off of a Cup win with the Blackhawks, to bulk up the blueline. Those two deals alone made a major impact on the Stars going from finishing nearly last in the Central Division to capturing the division title and finishing atop the Western Conference in the regular season.
Nill also swung a deal to land goaltender Antti Niemi in the off-season, as well as trading for defenseman Kris Russell at the deadline. Both played a part in getting the Stars to the post-season. Unfortunately, though, both underwhelmed in the playoffs.
The GM of the Year Award will be presented June 22 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.