For once, no one can accuse Jim Rutherford of not being candid enough.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager sat down in front of ABC 11 cameras, and spoke for nearly 12 minutes about his thoughts on the Canes’ middling campaign. He expressed his frustrations with the season, but also spoke of encouraging signs and an unwillingness to throw in the towel.
“We’ve underachieved, clearly, in the first half. And then in the second half, we started off well,” he said. “But we still sit in a good spot. We’ve got a real good team, we’re getting healthy. We just have to put a good string of games together.”
Rutherford was also presented with questions regarding a “leaked email”. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that Rutherford had emailed the rest of the league indicating that several names were available, some surprising, some not. Though Rutherford dodged making a statement about the email itself, he offered virtually unprompted criticism of several players. Most chiefly, Alexander Semin.
“He came off a great year, and we’re all very disappointed in his production at this point in time,” said Rutherford. “He’s a guy that’s paid to score goals and put up points and he hasn’t done that. He’s trying to play an east/west game when the rest of the team is playing a north/south game and he needs to get his act going pretty soon.”
While true that Semin hasn’t had the same fortunate bounces that he did last year, it’s not for lack of trying. He’s averages only 0.25 fewer attempts per game than a season ago, and given that his team controls 55.5% of the play while Semin is on the ice, it seems inconsistent with Rutherford’s comments about an east/west game.
Semin still sits third on the team in terms of points per game (PPG) among forwards, and is one of only four that are averaging 0.5 PPG. By comparison, last year saw six players hit that mark. As a whole, the forward group has underachieved, yet the majority escaped Rutherford’s ire.
Jordan Staal, on the other hand, was praised for turning a corner this year.
“I don’t think that Jordan played as well as he should have last year,” he said.
“It’s not about if he scores 30 or 40 goals, it’s about whether he can contain [the other team’s top players],” he added. “I believe he’s plus 5 or 6, he has 10 goals at this point in time. He’s a unique player that we evaluate in a different way than maybe the media or the fans would.”
Luckily, we are able to evaluate players beyond the scoresheet too, and not with archaic things such as plus/minus.
According Extra Skater, Semin has outperformed Jordan at controlling play while facing tougher competition, and he still scores at a higher even-strength clip. That’s not to say Jordan has played poorly by any means — he’s one of the few bright spots this year — but it is odd that Staal was praised and Semin was publicly berated when their years are so similar.
“I do think [the problem] is the focus and the will to do well as he did in his contract year. He’s probably the most skilled player on team, and when he wants to play, he can do it. I don’t know what he needs, but somebody better figure it out. Especially him.”
Why Rutherford chose to single out Semin while ignoring a large number of other under-performing players is anybody’s guess. The understandable frustration with yet another mediocre season exists throughout the region, not just at 1800 Edwards Mill. But throwing a player under the bus who has missed a month with a concussion is ludicrous.
The efforts Rutherford has made to improve the team — bringing in Ron Hainsey and Anton Khudobin — though solid moves, haven’t been enough. Holes still exist. The rotating door at third line center, the lack of six top-six wingers and four top-four defensemen, the dearth of assets throughout the organization: these remain the areas of concern.
While somewhat admirable that Rutherford, oft criticized for running a country club atmosphere, finally demanded accountability, the pendulum swung too far. Many of his comments were unfounded, if not outright unfair.
Captains, coaches, and personnel have all changed under his watch, and yet a playoff drought of only one appearance in the last six seasons persists, with a seventh heading for life-support. Rutherford hinted that he would wait until the offseason to evaluate a switch behind the bench, but it would only be another shuffle of the deck chairs aboard the sinking titanic. At some point, the mirror must be an option.