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Next in Line

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When the Penguins hired Jim Rutherford as their general manager in 2014, it seemed like a temporary move. The former Carolina Hurricanes GM would spend his two years in Pittsburgh, and then hand the keys to Jason Botterill; the man whom several people thought deserved the job in the first place.

Two years later, Rutherford remains with the Penguins. This past June, he stood on the ice at the SAP Center in San Jose, hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head. Then, in July, he agreed to a three-year contract extension, which will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2018-2019 season.

Many expected Rutherford to be gone by now and for Botterill, the protégé for so many years under both Rutherford and former GM Ray Shero, to take the reins. But if Botterill , the current associate general manager, truly wants the job, he will have to wait even longer.

Then there’s Bill Guerin. The former Penguins winger, who won the Stanley Cup with the club as a player in 2009, is currently the assistant GM of the team and showing that he too could be capable of becoming an NHL general manager in the future.

It’s a good problem for the Penguins to have, and they get to put it on the backburner for three more years. But when Rutherford finally does depart, will the position be Botterill’s to lose, or could Guerin be a viable option?

“I think the Penguins have a lot of faith in both of those guys,” said Bob Grove, the studio host for the Penguins Radio Network. “I think the Penguins understand they have in both of those guys two very capable hockey people who already have a lot of experience, both as players and as assistant general managers.”

Grove said that an advantage that Botterill could hold over Guerin is his expansive experience in the front office, as well as his knowledge of the league’s salary cap.

“That is just so integral to everything that a GM does,” Grove said. “It’s not just about, ‘How do I manage the salary cap this coming season?’ The people who manage the cap best are those who are planning years ahead of time for the way it’s going to affect their hockey club. 

“That’s one of the huge advantages that Jason Botterill has. He’s immersed himself in that for several years. He understands it frontwards and backwards, and that’s a big part of being a GM.”

Bob Errey, a former Penguin and the current color analyst on Penguins TV broadcasts, said that although Guerin is less polished in the front office, it doesn’t mean he isn’t learning quickly. Penguins Bill Guerin

“When you’re in that position, you have to be like a sponge,” Errey said. “He’s done a great job of that.”

With what seems like two talented front office guys vying for the same future job opening, it would be natural to think there could be some competition or hard feelings between Botterill and Guerin. But both Grove and Errey said that’s just not who those guys are.

“They’re team players,” Errey said, “and you have to be in that kind of situation. We all know about Bill Guerin and his leadership, and Botterill is a team player, too. He realizes there’s enough work to go around.”

“The job is so intense in the amount of work that needs done,” Grove said. “You need to surround yourself with really good people. The more you have, I think the better it is.”

Most hockey people believe that Botterill is already more than qualified to be an NHL GM. He was even considered to become the general manager of the new Las Vegas franchise that will enter the league in 2017.

Although Guerin trails Botterill in experience, he almost certainly has a bright future in the business, as well. So when Rutherford exits, and when one of the two likely takes his place, it could leave the other in an awkward position. 

“It just seems to me that both Botterill and Guerin enjoy Pittsburgh,” Grove said. “They understand the expectations here and they seem quite happy. There’s lots to think of.  Botterill certainly has a ton of great experience, so as teams reevaluate their general manger situations in the near future, I think Jason Botterill should be in the conversation.”

Errey said that both guys probably aren’t too concerned with what will happen down the line.

“They know what they’re doing here is not a race,” he said. “You’re trying to learn, you’re trying to make yourself better everyday. You just have to keep your nose to the grindstone and keep trying to learn.  There’s plenty of work to go around for all of them.”

Grove also suggested that just because Rutherford signed a three-year extension at age 67, it doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to walk away after the contract expires.

“I just would say that people ought to be open to the possibility,” Grove said. “It’s always good to be careful and don’t just get into assuming something is going to happen at a future date.  Penguins Jason Botteril

What if Jim Rutherford wins another Stanley Cup and he’s really enjoying himself, and he gets to the end of another contract and thinks, ‘Hey, I still love what I’m doing,’ and the Penguins still think he’s the best guy for the job. I’m just throwing that out there.”

Whatever musical chairs occur in the Penguins front office over the next few years, the organization can take pride in the fact that there are multiple men who are capable of leading the team in the present and future.

“It’s not about the dollar,” Errey said. “It’s about winning. They’re all in a good position and they recognize that. These guys all get along and they work tirelessly. I hope we can keep them all around for three more years. We’ll wait and see.”

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