There was little about Jim Rutherford's career in pro hockey that ever came easily. As a diminutive netminder, he lacked the reach of a Dryden and the quickness of an Esposito. He had his hot nights as a stand up goalie with respectable reflexes and glove hand. But more often than not, he struggled between the pipes with a determination that won the respect of many in the NHL.
He played his junior hockey for the Hamilton Red Wings of the OHA from 1967 to 1969. The Detroit Red Wings as their first choice in the 1969 Entry Draft then selected him. But Rutherford's first round with the Wings was limited. He played a season and a half for the Fort Worth Wings, their minor-league affiliate in the CHL. Along the way he appeared in 29 games at the Olympia in Detroit.
The Pittsburgh Penguins then claimed him in the 1971 Intra-League Draft. As a Pen, Rutherford played parts of three seasons before being sent back to Detroit in exchange for Ron Stackhouse. In his second term as a Wings goalie, Rutherford spent his years on edge in anticipation of being replaced by a new acquisition or a talented upstart.
First Eddie Giacomin was brought on board as the club's number-one man. But his performance was uneven, prompting the Wings to split the action evenly between the two backstoppers. But life between the pipes continued to have its highs and lows.
In February 1976, Rutherford tied Glenn Hall's team record of three straight shutouts, the victims being Washington, Toronto, and Minnesota. But by February of the following year, the Giacomin/Rutherford tandem hit its low with a 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In that game, the Leafs' Ian Turnbull broke a 30-game goal-less streak by scoring an NHL record five goals as a defenseman.
After Giacomin's depature, the Wings brought in Ron Low who was expected to supplant Rutherford as a starter. But Low, like Giacomin, struggled between the pipes, necessitating an increase in game action for Rutherford. The same situation occurred the following year when the Wings brought in the high-priced Rogie Vachon. Again, Rutherford handled the clean-up duties
In 1980-81, the Wings acquired Giles Gilbert who finally took command of the Wings' goal crease. As such, Rutherford was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he played briefly before heading west to join the L.A. Kings.
On the West Coast, Rutherford played in only a handful of games before making his third appearance in the Red Wings' organization. But by then, the Wings were into a youth movement with leanings towards Greg Stefan and Corrado Micalef. The veteran Rutherford played only one game and was then sent packing to Adirondack to round out his career in 1982-83.
Since hanging up his pads, Rutherford has served as a manager with the Compuware Sports Corporation, coached and managed the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL and has served as GM for the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes since 1994.