Though it should come as no surprise, Pittsburgh Penguins ownership consulted their biggest stars before making the recent hires of Ron Hextall as GM and Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations. The Athletic’s Rob Rossi writes that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were informed of the Hextall-Burke possibility and endorsed the move, according to sources close to the players. While owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle typically do not intrude on hockey operations matters, the once exception over the years has been an insistence on keeping Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh at all costs. This why the pair, despite being 33 and 34 years old respectively, were consulted on a front office move that could outlast either’s career. Ownership’s lone mandate to Hextall and Burke is that they would like Crosby and Malkin to retire as Penguins if they so choose. Crosby is already signed through 2024-25 and has never given the team any reason to want to move him. Malkin however has not been as consistent and will be a free agent after next season. He has previously expressed a desire to sign on for three more years in Pittsburgh at the conclusion of his current contract to line up with the expiration of Crosby’s deal, allowing the two iconic Penguins to potentially retire together. Whether this is the same expectation shared by Hextall and Burke remains to be seen, but it appears as though the duo have been asked by their new bosses to treat Crosby and Malkin differently than the rest of the roster.
Interestingly, that even includes defenseman Kris Letang. Rossi reports that previous GM Jim Rutherford had been told that any trade involving Letang would need to be approved by ownership. However, Hextall and Burke are not operating under the same mandate. Rutherford had allegedly been gauging the trade interest in Letang around the league prior to his resignation and Hextall and Burke may be similarly interested in moving the veteran defenseman, whose expensive contract expires after the 2021-22 season. While Lemieux is still believed to prefer extending Letang, it seems he would be okay with moving the career Penguin “the right way”.
- Rossi also notes that, while no other front office moves were made alongside the additions of Hextall and Burke and the return of interim GM Patrick Allvin back to his role as Assistant GM, permission was given to make an addition to the staff. Hextall reportedly asked that he be allowed to hire his former assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers, Chris Pryor, before accepting the position with the Penguins. Pryor was fired alongside Hextall in Philadelphia and has since been working as an amateur scout for the Nashville Predators. It is unclear why Pryor has not yet joined the Penguins and if the Predators have anything to do with the hold up. However, the expectation is that Pryor will eventually become a second Assistant GM for Pittsburgh, resuming his role as Hextall’s draft guru. Rossi does not believe that any other changes to the front office are imminent until after Hextall and Burke handle the numerous major tasks ahead – in-season trades, entry draft, expansion, etc. – and have time to review the department.
- The Penguins continue to play in an empty building, but they might have 4,500+ in attendance before too long. Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune writes that the team has made requests to the Pennsylvania Department of Health as well as the Governor’s office to allow for PPG Paints Arena to open to fans at 25% capacity. He adds that quarter capacity for the venue is 4,596 spectators, a far cry from the current 500 players and personnel maximum currently allowed on game days. With COVID rates on the decline in the state and neighboring New York opening sports venues to 10% capacity, the Penguins’ request is not unrealistic. The team has already undertaken a number of health and safety measures at PPG in anticipation of crowds. The club certainly hopes that those with the power to allow Penguins fans back in the building will take all factors into account and grant their request.