Jim Rutherford didn’t travel with the Pittsburgh Penguins to Raleigh for Tuesday’s game against the Canes, saying the Pens are holding their scouting meetings.
Rutherford, the Pens’ general manager, said he will be back for the Feb. 12 game at PNC Arena. That game will coincide with the Hurricanes’ 10th anniversary celebration of the 2006 Stanley Cup.
But Rutherford, who as the Canes’ president and general manager helped assemble and mold that 2006 team, said he is not sure how much — if any — he will participate in the festivities. “I’ve been invited but I think that’s more for the players,” he said.
Rutherford may change his mind when the time comes. He said he still has a “great attachment” to the franchise and noted Canes general manager Ron Francis, head trainer Pete Friesen and others remain close friends.
“They have a lot of players who first came in the organization when I was there, so there’s still a lot of interest,” said Rutherford, who retired as Canes GM in April 2014 after 20 years with the franchise.
For now, he’s a lot more interested in the Pens’ turnaround after a first half of the season that had Rutherford fire his coach, Pascal Dupuis abruptly retire for medical reasons, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang sidelined by injuries and Sidney Crosby’s play questioned.
Crosby has 12 goals and 19 assists in 40 games — acceptable totals for a lot of NHL players but low for Crosby. The Pens captain is 28, and some around the league were wondering if he was showing the first signs of decline as one of the NHL’s top point producers.
“He’s played fine for us all year,” Rutherford said. “The one thing people always look at with a player like Sid is his point production and if it’s down want to say he’s not playing well. I feel like he’s played well all year and his production is down because we have not converted on some good chances. I was never concerned about him.”
Having Letang and Fleury back is a must for the Pens. Fleury, recovered from a concussion, was activated Jan. 2 from injured reserve and is expected to be the starting goalie Tuesday.
How valuable is Letang? The Pens are 19-9-4 with him in the lineup and 1-7-1 mark when he has been sidelined.
“Marc-Andre is such a key player for us but the X-factor on our team is Kris Letang,” Rutherford said. “He plays 26, 27 minutes a night. He leaves a big hole when he’s not in the lineup.”
Rutherford made a coaching change, firing Mike Johnston — a coach he hired — and bringing in Mike Sullivan on Dec. 12. The Pens are 5-6-2 under Sullivan but 5-2-2 since a 2-1 loss to the Canes on Dec. 19 in Pittsburgh.
“There are signs of our team turning the corner,” Rutherford said.