Pittsburgh Penguins: Ron Hextall, Brian Burke Create The Much Needed Buzz For Organization

Photo Credit: Getty Images

After a couple week search, the Pittsburgh Penguins narrowed in and hired their replacement to Jim Rutherford as new General Manager.

Of course its a name that shouldn’t be unfamiliar if you grew up a Penguins fan, as it is former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Ron Hextall.

In a way, Hextal revolutionized the goaltender position. The first to score physically a goal at his position, Hextall was a wizard with the stick, able to handle the puck unlike those who came before him and cleared the path for those after - such as Martin Brodeur.

He also fit in quite well with the Broad Street Bully attitude that came with playing for the Flyers. Hextall was no stranger to the rough stuff, logging the most penalty minutes by a goaltender in NHL history.

But while he was super aggressive on the ice, Hextall is one of the more patient GMs in the game, who is also known for his ability to build from within.

While he certainly separated himself quickly as the go to candidate it did raise plenty of questions as if his philosophy will fit in with the Penguins current situation.

What made Rutherford a great fit, at least early in his tenure, was that he was the ultimate ‘all-in’ GM. Having a core that included Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang (you can add in Marc-Andre Fleury if you want) at the beginning of his tenure, Rutherford knew his time was now to win a championship (he did twice) and didn’t shy away from making a trade.

They came fast and furious, he even made trades to patch up previous ones he made that weren’t working out.

That’s what made Rutherford an one-of-a-kind General Manager, for better or worse.

And that’s not going to be what Hextall brings to the table. He helped build Philadelphia into what they are today, and helped in the rise of the Los Angeles Kings during the early salary cap days.

In both cases, they built their entire roster, from top to bottom, mostly through the draft. They added pieces here and there, but they got the bulk of their help through the draft.

That’s certainly going to be a change of pace for the Penguins, who have had one first round pick in the last six seasons. They also haven’t had a player from the 2016 draft class or later make it to the NHL. The two players from the 2015 class who have? Neither are with the organization any more (Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong).

But it’s a move that needs to happen. Especially with the uncertainty of the salary cap with the ongoing pandemic. It becomes dangerously critical for them to do so as the core continues to get to the end of their careers to help cut down on the potential ‘rebuild’ period.

If the Penguins want to avoid cratering like the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks or the Kings did, they couldn’t have picked a better guy than Hextall.

It was time for a change, and Hextall brings about the closest thing to the polar opposite as Rutherford when it comes how they put a team together.

He also isn’t big on trades, but he has made them count. Hextall was credited with 14 trades in his four year tenure as GM with the Flyers. It took Rutherford less than two calendar years to make the same amount of trades - and he made a total of 53 in his time in Pittsburgh, according to nhltradetracker.com.

Making them count? Hextall traded Brayden Schenn for Jori  Lehtera (ehh), as well as two first round picks that he used on Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee. The latter is really starting to come into his own this year for the Flyers and looks to be a key piece of their future.

He also traded Braden Coburn for Radko Gudas, another first round pick, and a third round pick. The first round pick they used to trade up to draft Travis Konecy.

There’s no doubting that Hextall plans on trying to capitalize on having Crosby and Malkin on the roster still but you just have to figure plans are being put in place for the eventual ‘rebuild’ or ‘retool’ that is going to be needed.

And that’s fine, and exactly what the Penguins front office needed.

Brian Burke Brings (Too Much?) Old School Mentality, Experience To Table

For as much of a fan I am in bringing in Hextall, I am somewhat hesitant about the hiring of Burke. I’ve long felt that hockey media needs a little bit of updating and catching up to the times we live in when it comes to the style being played in the NHL.

There’s nothing wrong with how the game use to be played, I was a huge fan of that style growing up. Rough, physical hockey where fights were common and you had your bottom-six filled with pluggers that were good at only punching each other had its time.

These days its about speed and skill, as evident by the best player in the game currently. It just feels like some of the media hasn’t caught up to the times and spend most of their time shaking their fist at the sky wondering why a period has gone by and no one has punched each other.

So the hiring of Burke, who pretty much personifies this mentality, was a little bit of a brow raiser for me. 

It’s certainly going to be an interesting dynamic that could play out, with Hextall making the decisions but still reporting to Burke.

Regardless of his lookout on the sport, there are few respected as much as Burke around the league. He’s a no nonsense guy, who isn’t going to be afraid to call it the way he sees it.

He has an old school approach but has been one of the biggest advocates for NHLs ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ program.

Watching the Penguins some nights, it feels like that’s exactly what they need, to get called out for what has been a lackluster start to the season.

How they’ll respond to that kind of potential criticism will be worth paying attention going forward.

Regardless how they respond, don’t expect either Hextall or Burke to lose any sleep over it.

During the Crosby/Malkin era, the Penguins have responded the loudest when things have been shaken up. They did it first when they fired Michel Therrian mid season for Dan Bylsma. They would later do the same when Mike Sullivan took over.

Maybe this kind of shakeup and adjustment in attitude in the front office can resonate loud enough to the players on the ice.

If not, expect things to get shaken up even harder. With just one regulation win on the season, that may not be the worst thing for the Penguins.

What do you think about the hiring of Hextall/Burke? What would your first big move be if you were in their shoes? Let us know in the comments below, subscribe to the sit at the link above and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.


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