The Leafs Should Hire Rutherford

A few days after another lost season, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas comes to his end–of–season presser carrying a cross. He spends an hour nailing himself to it. Then we start the process all over again.
— Cathal Kelly, The Globe and Mail, May 30

TORONTO (June 1) — On second thought, maybe the process should change.

Though I respect Kyle Dubas as a hockey executive and believe he has a place in the Maple Leafs’ organization, I contend he should no longer occupy the big chair. Not with a three–time Stanley Cup champion looking for work.

Maybe Jim Rutherford, even at 72 years of age, can formulate a plan to maximize the underachieving Toronto players that are locked into immovable contracts. Or, perhaps find a miraculous way to alter the four–man nucleus that consumes more than half the salary cap limitation. Rutherford resigned, on Jan. 27, as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not long afterward, he expressed a desire to again work in the National Hockey League. The Penguins have granted him permission to seek that opportunity. Is it too logical to suggest the Leafs pursue him? And, is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment prepared to act quickly, before Rutherford signs elsewhere?


When I contacted Jim today to ask if he’d be interested in a call from the Maple Leafs, he stood clear of speculation. “That’s too hypothetical to answer; I don’t want to stir up anything by making a comment,” he said.

“But, I am going to work again [in the NHL]. I can tell you that.”

As an Ontario boy (born in Beeton) that grew up watching the Leafs — and briefly played goal for the club in the 1980–81 season — it’s difficult to envision ol’ Jimmy turning down a chance to manage the Blue and White.

You may ask: Why go after Rutherford when the Leafs allowed Lou Lamoriello to escape (to the New York Islanders)? Simple, the follow–up plan hasn’t worked. Brendan Shanahan wouldn’t have known that on May 22, 2018 when he chose Dubas to replace Lamoriello. But, he must be pondering differently today, after yet another first–round playoff elimination; this one against a team the Leafs had on the ropes and should have subdued.

I don’t necessarily believe Shanahan ought to pay for that three–year–old decision with his own job as president. He gave a young, promising executive a chance and watched Dubas build a club that breezed to the North Division title this season. Yet, to no avail. If the Leafs retain Dubas as GM, the 82–game schedule next season will be the most–irrelevant in franchise history; still with Toronto hockey fans paying the most–expensive ticket prices in the NHL. The club could win 60 games and no one would reasonably care. Neither, of course, would empty seats prevail at Scotiabank Arena, regardless of which person runs the team. But, a conscientious approach, in this regard, requires change. With Rutherford at the helm, the enterprise would feel refreshed, from the outset. His canny leadership might also unlock whatever is preventing the Maple Leafs from nearing their apparent potential.

Rutherford has first–hand experience with getting such a talented team as the Leafs over the hump.

Though he built the Carolina Hurricanes from scratch — winning his first Stanley Cup as GM in 2006 — he inherited a Pittsburgh club (in June 2014) with a similar cap issue as the Maple Leafs. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang composed the high–priced nucleus of the club that won the 2009 NHL title, but had been to the Conference final only once in the interim (losing to Boston in 2013). As with Dubas, he, too, had to enhance the roster with peripheral ingredients that would compliment the Big 3. Rutherford accomplished the task by adding such veterans as Phil Kessel, Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr, Trevor Daley and Ben Lovejoy. Dubas, by contrast, has failed in similar attempts with Tyson Barrie, Kyle Clifford, Cody Ceci, Michael Hutchinson, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and Nick Foligno. The deadline trade for Foligno, a pending free agent, cost the club its first and fourth–round draft picks this year. The Leafs, in fact, are left with only three selections in the 2021 draft.

With John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander on the book for nearly $41 million in cap consumption again next season (and beyond), the task of building around them is more critical than ever.

Rutherford has a recently proven track record in such a circumstance. He’d be a wise addition.




13 comments on “The Leafs Should Hire Rutherford

  1. Seven years ago, someone decided to give the most important job in hockey to a guy who had never ran a hockey team. This is where the problems all started. He may have been a great hockey player, but his resume for anything else was pretty weak.
    3 years ago, this person decided to release probably the smartest hockey mind to have ever worked in Toronto.
    Now the end should be over fir this person.

  2. Dubas won’t be going anywhere this season (unfortunately), but if they faceplant in the first round next season he and Keefe will be tossed over the side.
    I don’t understand why the leafs ALWAYS end up with a GM who is out to prove that he’s smarter than everybody else. From Fletcher’s “draft shmaft”, Ferguson’s “all the young players will be free agents and want to be leafs”, Burke’s “truculence first” and now Dubas’s analytics inspired possession/”play like a video game” strategy. All they EVER prove is that their revolutionary approach or idea is just hot air.

    And if(when) Dubas says anything about having faith “in the process” I’m gonna puke. Go back to the play station Kyle.

  3. this team of maple laughs cannot win a series in 5 years playoffs??? maybe the coaches/managers and president cannot pressure these millionaires to perform?? Just like the raptors did get rid of the people who cannot get the horses rise to the occasion??? or remember the buffalo bills couldn’t win the big one…. 4 years in a row…. coaches..managers fault I feel

  4. Dubas is not the problem. OK, not every move he made this season panned out, but he tried, the moves seemed like a great idea at the time and no GM bats 1.000. And although the Leafs could have played those last three games with more desperation and intensity (that’s not the GM’s fault, either) they were just one timely Matthews goal, one more save from Campbell or one fewer turnover by a young D-man from advancing.

    1. It is his fault for not building a solid supporting cast around the stars. It is his fault for caving in and giving too much money to the “big four”, thus creating a huge cap issue. It is his fault for not acquiring a top end D (Reilly is not one of those). It is his fault for not properly addressing the goalie problem. He has not drafted well. Need I go on?

  5. Couldn’t agree with you more. Dubas needs to be further mentored if he is to stay with the club.

  6. I am trying to choose my words carefully because the dust of defeat has not settled yet. All I can say is I am a die-hard Leaf fan. Something has to be done this losing charade has to end… We need someone who is successful who has won the Stanley Cup, like Jim Rutherford. He is a winner. Turn the reigns over to Jim and watch what He will do…

  7. David, I don’t think replacing Shanahan with Rutherford is the answer. May as well bring back Lamoriello and make him President. The Last thing this team needs is an alta cucker running the show. I would consider replacing Dubas. He’s the problem.

    1. Dubas is definitely the problem. The only way Rutherford is coming here is in some kind of an advisory role under current circumstances. Shanahan is not getting rid of Dubas. The only way this works is if Larry T steps in and gets rid of Shanahan. In this case, Rutherford comes in and rids the organization of its problem, Dubas.

    2. I have a strong feeling Shanahan should go because he really is running the show at 40 Bay Street. Dubas is just is “joe boy”.

  8. Howard, I would replace Shanahan with Rutherford. I like Jim Rutherford. Think he would be a good fit in Toronto. They need to do something.

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