He was just 26 days removed from winning the Stanley Cup.
Said Rutherford to the 150 in attendance, "Y'know, if I'm not fortunate enough to win this again, I hope Paul [Maurice] gets to win this in Toronto."
Seven years, nine months and 13 days later, Rutherford's then-heartfelt optimism reeks of naivety and nostalgia.
The joy and accomplishment felt that warm summer night in Canada was about to be permanently replaced by failure, frustration and an insatiable longing to return again to the top of the NHL. He never was destined to win it all again; nor was Maurice, even after being re-hired by Rutherford and the 'Canes in December 2008.
Today, Rutherford's reign as general manager of the Hartford/Carolina franchise ended, 20 tumultuous years after its beginning and almost eight years after its climax.
The 65-year-old man sat and spoke solemnly at a press conference half the size of those which followed his team after their 2006 championship, no longer arguably the most powerful leader in the Hurricanes franchise and now simply an aging relic of the oft-traveled player-to-executive hockey road.
It was a quiet, humbling and disappointing conclusion to a career more associated with its lean years than with its occasional achievement.
Per Monday's conference, Rutherford will hand over the GM duties to Ron Francis, who has served as assistant GM in recent years. Francis will be joined by Mike Vellucci and Brian Tatum on the front office staff.
"I'm really pleased with the direction we're going," said Rutherford, honesty neither expected nor delivered. "Ronnie [Francis] has paid his dues, he's a good person...he'll be a good general manager."
"Twenty years was a long time for me; I've thought about this for a few years and certainly...the time is right now. I'd like to thank Peter for the opportunity he gave me, and the support he gave me over the years."
After the obligatory but likely less-than-sincere thanks to the "respectful" fans, media and Gary Bettman, Rutherford addressed his new role as president with a touch of submissiveness.
"I'm only in an advisory role, so if [Francis] wants to ask me a question, he can do that at his own risk," he said. "I retain the President's role, but no one will report me so I'm stepping a long way away from it."
Rutherford went into more specifics in a later interview with Bob Wage of Canes Country:
I gave this job everything I had. Are there some decisions that I made I would like to have a mulligan on? Yes, maybe...
For instance the Ruutu-Ladd trade. At the time, Ladd was hurt a lot, although he was a good player, but we were desperate for help at center ice and Ruutu was a two-position player, so that is why we made that trade. You can debate it whether it was good or bad, like any trade, but at the time we made it, we had valid reasons.
Perhaps most perplexing about Rutherford's future legacy is his lack of a current legacy.
What will he will remembered for? The move to North Carolina, the trade for Rod Brind'Amour, the 2005-06 rags-to-riches Stanley Cup season? Or the Brendan Shanahan debacle, the two Maurice hirings, the Staal family obsession?
For every Alexander Semin free-agency signing, there was a Tomas Kaberle disaster.
For every Doug Weight trade, there was a Chris Pronger trade mistake.
For every Eric Staal draft selection, there was a Jack Johnson first-round fiasco.
Every positive move Rutherford made was eventually counterbalanced by an equally negative one; every benefit from a smart decision was nulled down the road by a close-minded blunder.
When Flyers GM Paul Holmgren retires, he will be remembered for mega-contracts and aggressive offseason stances. When Predators GM David Poile retires, he will remembered for his stick-it-out philosophy and depth-focused salary distribution.
Yet both will also be remembered for the success they brought to their respective clubs.
Flip-flopping Rutherford spent half his career as Holmgren and the other as Poile with no clear pattern year-to-year either.
One year, the 'Canes would seek to develop their youth and build for the future; the next, the 'Canes would push a fix-it-with-money urgency.
In the end, neither proved effective over the long term.
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