The Pittsburgh Penguins’ search for a new General Manager is now well underway as interviews have already begun taking place. Just over a week ago, long-time GM Jim Rutherford abruptly stepped down and left the team with immediate vacany. Despite kindhearted and appreciative farewell messages between Rutherford and team executives, rumors have swirled that there is much more to the departure than just “personal reasons.” Nevertheless, for whatever the reason may be, the 71-year-old felt it was best to part ways with the organization, leaving many wondering, who will be Rutherford’s successor?
Here is a list of the likely top candidates for the position:
Patrick Allvin is the team’s current interim-GM and has been a part of the Penguins organization for 14 years. He was promoted to assistant GM in November of 2020, where he worked closely with Rutherford, and now, has taken over his job. The team has made it clear that if Allvin exhibits the right qualities and ideas that align with ownership’s expectations, they will gladly remove the interim label from his position.
“We’re looking for someone that’s going to be able to come in, take a very talented team with a very good coaching staff, and take it as far as they can take it. I don’t think there’s much more of a criteria than that,” said Pens CEO David Morehouse, when discussing Allvin’s future.
The 46-year-old has worked his way through all areas of the organization, originally being a scout overseas. The first Swede to be a top NHL executive, he is known for his ability to find great young talent and has been responsible for various Pens European draft picks. In nine seasons as a scout, the team selected 14 prospects from Europe, including Kasperi Kapanen, Oskar Sundqvist, Dominik Simon, Joel Blomqvist, and Calle Clang. Despite Allvin’s lack of experience in the role, he is highly regarded by the organization and could very well be their GM going forward.
Currently the assistant GM for the Colorado Avalanche, the Pens have been granted permission to interview Chris MacFarland for the position. The 50-year-old has served as the AGM of Joe Sakic for six seasons, and is well on his way to being a GM in the NHL, whether it be for the Penguins, or elsewhere. He has been praised for being an integral part of the Avs’ quick turnaround. He and Sakic have taken the league’s worst team in 2016-17 to being cup contenders just four years later. Prior to his role with the Avs, MacFarland spent 16 seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets in various different positions, starting with as the manager of hockey operations and culminating as assistant GM. A native of the east coast, this could be a great opportunity for MacFarland, if it seems like a good fit for both parties. This is not his first time being a candidate to be a team’s GM, as he was one of several people interviewed for the vacant New Jersey Devils GM position this past summer.
One of the more interesting candidates being interviewed for the position, former NHL goaltender Kevin Weekes has caught the eye of the Pens ownership and could potentially land his first executive NHL role in Pittsburgh. The 45-year-old has been an analyst on the NHL network since 2009 and has quickly worked his way up the ranks as one of the better analysts on the network. His knowledge of the game is quite impressive, but his inexperience makes this move a potential gamble. Known as a bit of a journeyman around the league, Weekes appeared in 348 career games split between the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils. Despite his lack of experience, he has impressed the teams’ ownership and could potentially be the next Penguins GM, if they decide to move in that direction.
A familiar face in the state of Pennsylvania has been granted permission to interview with the Penguins for the GM position. Former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender and GM Ron Hextall is reportedly another candidate whom the Pens are looking at. The 56-year-old is in his first year with the Los Angeles Kings as a senior advisor. He served as the GM of the Flyers from 2014-18, and as the assistant the year prior. He has worked around the league in hockey operations since 1999 starting as a pro scout for the Flyers. From 2006-2013, he worked as the VP of hockey operations and assistant GM of the Kings. He brings plenty of knowledge and experience to the table of a team who so bitterly rivals his beloved Flyers. Of the reported potential candidates that the Pens are currently considering, Hextall is one of the more experienced candidates that the team can depend on if their preliminary focus is experience. Regardless, if Hextall does indeed end up becoming the next GM of the Penguins, it will be a disappointing day for Flyers fans, and a tough pill to swallow.
Another former NHL superstar who has been linked to the job with the Pens is Joe Nieuwendyk. The Oshawa, Ontario-native has been involved in hockey operations since his retirement, joining the Florida Panthers as a consultant in 2007. A year later he left the Panthers and joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant GM, and in 2009, landed his first GM position with the Dallas Stars. The 54-year-old served as the Stars GM until the 2012-13 season when he was released by the team. He was highly touted to be the one that turned the struggling Stars franchise around, however, the excitement and hype surrounding him quickly turned to disappointment. During his only tenure as a GM, he famously allowed long-time Captain Mike Modano to leave the team after 22 seasons, as well as made several questionable moves including moving on from James Neal, Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, and Brendan Morrow, to name a few.
The criticism placed on him is not so much a result of his decision to part ways with the aforementioned players, but rather the return he got for players of such quality at the time. Since his release from the Stars, Nieuwendyk worked as a pro scout and advisor for the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-2018 when he resigned from the position. He has preferred more low-profile roles since his departure from the Stars organization. This would be a bold move for the Penguins as Nieuwendyk’s only opportunity as a GM lasted just four seasons, and was not exactly a successful tenure. The former three-time Stanley Cup Champion will be interviewed by the team and could be back in the NHL soon enough.
Jason Karmanos is a name that does not ring many bells or generate many reactions from hockey fans, however, he served as the Penguins assistant GM from 2017-2020. His father, Peter Karmanos Jr. is a minority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes. He started his career in hockey operations with the Hurricanes with whom he spent 15 years and was one of the helping hands in the teams 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team. In 2014 he transitioned to the Penguins as their VP of hockey operations until his promotion in 2017. The 46-year-old was fired in 2020, which promoted now interim-GM Patrick Allvin to assistant GM. His release came as a surprise but seemed to be due to a rift between him, management, and Rutherford.
Rutherford, however, praised Karmanos saying, “I think it was really good for [Karmanos] to come to Pittsburgh with me because he got away from people thinking he was only working because it was with the team that his father owned. But he did a lot of good things in Carolina with me. He’s really good with contracts, he’s really good at evaluating players, he’s what I need for a guy that works and an assistant GM.”
Although the Penguins lost a great hockey mind in Jim Rutherford, Karmanos’ 20 years of experience working alongside him, as well as his experience within the Pens organization make him a very attractive candidate for the team. It is not unrealistic to think that the Orchard Lake, Michigan-native could be a frontrunner to return to the Penguins organization just months after his initial release.
John Ferguson Jr.
A candidate with plenty of experience who is set to be interviewed for the job is John Ferguson Jr. Currently, he serves as the executive director of player personnel for the Boston Bruins, and the GM of the teams AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. The team has granted him permission to be interviewed by the Pens. A former Montreal Canadiens draft pick, he served as the VP of hockey operations and assistant GM for the St. Louis Blues. From 2003-2008, he served as the VP and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His tenure with the Maple Leafs and only tenure as an NHL GM is not received well by most Leaf fans. He made many questionable decisions in his five years in charge including trading away the team’s first-round picks in 2004, 2005 (Tuukka Rask), and 2007, as well as their second-round picks in 2007 and 2008 among many more draft picks. He signed Pavel Kubina, Michael Peca, Jason Blake, other GM candidate Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, and Eric Lindros, all of which proved to be poor decisions on the young GM’s part. However, no one acquisition will hurt Leafs fans more than the Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft trade, which ultimately stands out as the label that made John Ferguson Jr. infamous in the city of Toronto.
At the time, the then 36-year-old, who lacked experience, struggled in a large, difficult market but has since been apart of a very successful Bruins organization since 2014. This poses the question as to whether or not his growth as a member of the Bruins could tout him to be a successful NHL GM if given a second opportunity. The 53-year-old will interview with the Penguins this week with the hopes that he can prove himself if given another chance.
Rob Rossi from The Athletic on how he believes the Penguins executives perceive Ferguson Jr., “John Ferguson Jr., from whom the Penguins anticipated receiving consent from the Bruins, is thought of by some in Pittsburgh as of “the Sully model,” a team source said, a high-ceiling candidate who learned hard lessons in a previous job as Mike Sullivan did as head coach of the Bruins.”
Aside from the candidates listed above, several other names have been swirling around the NHL rumored to be targeted by the team. Chris Drury, the current assistant GM of the New York Rangers was said to be a frontrunner for the position but has since decided to remain with the Rangers. The New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald was requested for an interview by the Penguins, in which the Devils declined the opportunity to reel Fitzgerald away from them. Much like Fitzgerald, the Pens reportedly asked for permission to speak with Jason Botterill, to which Seattle declined their request. Scott Mellanby was another name rumored to be of interest by the team but the former NHLer declined the opportunity to interview for the position, opting to remain in his role with the Montreal Canadiens.
Fortunately for the Penguins, there are many qualified candidates available. It is a quite large prospect pool that is diverse. The Pens could opt to go with a more experienced candidate, or take a younger approach and see what a newcomer could put together. Regardless, it is expected that the team will have a decision by February 15th as to whether they will stick with Allvin until the end of the season, or hire one of the many candidates they have interviewed. If they opt for the former, the team will still be able to hire a new GM in the offseason if need be.