Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Penguins named Jim Rutherford their new general manager on Friday and he wasted no time making a coach change, relieving Dan Bylsma of his duties.
Bylsma's job had been in jeopardy since the Penguins were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The club blew a 3-1 series lead and was eliminated from the postseason by a lower-seeded team for the fifth straight year.
Instead of Bylsma, it was general manger Ray Shero who got the axe on May 16 in the wake of the playoff collapse. Ownership said Bylsma's fate would be decided by the new GM.
Enter Rutherford, exit Bylsma after six seasons.
Rutherford had spent the last 20 years as the general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes, stepping down from that role in late April when Ron Francis was named to the post. He was expected to remain with the organization as team president in an advisory role.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday that Rutherford became a candidate for the Penguins' GM vacancy only this week.
"Jim has proven himself to be one of the finest executives in our sport, a man who always conducts himself with class and dignity, and we're excited to bring him to Pittsburgh as our general manager," said co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle in a joint statement. "He has a wealth of knowledge and experience that few can match, and he will offer fresh ideas and a new perspective to our organization."
Rutherford joined the Carolina franchise in June 1994 when it was still located in Hartford. The club moved to Raleigh before the 1997-98 season and he built teams that twice reached the Stanley Cup Finals, winning the championship in the spring of 2006.
The Hurricanes have reached the playoffs just once since that title run and missed the postseason for a fifth straight year in 2013-14.
Bylsma, meanwhile, had guided the Penguins to four 100-point seasons and six straight playoff berths since taking over as head coach late in the 2008-09 season for Michel Therrien.
However, since winning the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2009 in Bylsma's debut behind the bench, the Pens have won only four playoff series and endured two losses in which the club held a 3-1 advantage.
There was speculation about Bylsma's future after Pittsburgh was swept in the Eastern Conference finals by Boston last year, but the franchise rewarded him with a two-year extension last summer. He repaid that trust by leading the club to a 51-24-7 mark and the inaugural Metropolitan Division crown, but the Penguins struggled past Columbus in the first round of the playoffs and could not overcome the Rangers in a Game 7 on home ice.
"We want to thank Dan for everything he has done for the Penguins organization," added Lemieux and Burkle. "He'll always be remembered as a big part of Pittsburgh sports history for his role in our Stanley Cup championship in 2009. We wish all the best to him and his family."
The 43-year-old Bylsma has the best regular-season winning percentage of any coach in Penguins history (.670) with a record of 252-117-32 in six seasons. He was the recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach in 2011.
"Dan is a good man and a good coach, but I thought we needed a change in direction moving forward," said Rutherford in a statement Friday. "I have no doubt that he will go on to be a head coach in the National Hockey League and have success. The search for our new head coach will begin immediately."
It's a return to Pittsburgh for Rutherford, who was a goaltender with the Penguins for parts of three seasons from 1971-74 in a 13-year NHL playing career that also featured stops in Detroit, Toronto and Los Angeles.
"I'm excited by this opportunity to return to Pittsburgh and become general manager of a franchise that I've always admired," Rutherford added. "To have the chance to work with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the talented group of players assembled here is something that any GM would dream of. I'm looking forward to getting to work right away -- it's going to be an important summer."
The Penguins on Friday also promoted assistant GM Jason Botterill to associate general manager, while Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald were named assistant general managers. Guerin, who won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in an 18- season playing career, had been serving as the Penguins' player development coach.