Not only have the Pittsburgh Penguins hired Ron Hextall as the team’s next GM, but Brian Burke will be joining him. Burke will be installed as President of Hockey Operations, with Hextall as General Manager. Burke last held a similar role with the Calgary Flames until 2018 when he stepped down, joining the Sportsnet broadcast team and working in media since. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reports that Hextall’s contract is four years long (with another option year), with the rest of the 2020-21 season counting as the first.
Penguins’ CEO David Morehouse released a statement on the hires, which were made official Tuesday afternoon:
We feel incredibly lucky to bring in two highly-respected executives with a combined 50-plus years of NHL management experience. Ron and Brian are well-known in the hockey world as fierce competitors with championship pedigrees. They’re very well-connected and experienced in all aspects of the game. They are both excited to get to work here in Pittsburgh, blending their skills and building on our long tradition of success.
Patrik Allvin, who served as interim GM since Jim Rutherford’s sudden resignation last month, will resume his role as assistant GM under Hextall.
This is certainly a change for the Penguins, who had been under the control of Rutherford since 2014. He had seen talented assistants come and go during that time, but it was ultimately Rutherford’s voice that ran the show. Now, by bringing in two veteran executives, there will be more voices in the room as they decide where to go next.
Burke, who famously mocked those who suggested the “Pittsburgh model” was one to follow while the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, first joined an NHL front office in 1987 and has been around the game basically his whole life. While there is some debate to how much credit he should actually receive, the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007 under his leadership and he has plenty of experience at the international level with USA Hockey, including a silver medal in 2010. There may be some who question his decisions, but there’s no one that questions the experience that Burke brings to the table.
Hextall’s arrival in Pittsburgh will come as a confusing moment for many Penguins fans, given how much he was hated during his playing days. A legend of Philadelphia Flyers hockey, the fiery goaltender was an easy villain for the cross-state rivals. That rivalry was reborn in retirement when Hextall took a position with the Flyers scouting department in 1999. After several years with the team, he left for the Los Angeles Kings, getting his first taste of managing by running the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL while serving as an AGM for the NHL squad. In 2013 he returned to Philadelphia and by the next year was named GM.
By 2018 however, he was fired from his job with the Flyers after seemingly being too patient in his approach. The team was slowly laying a foundation through the drafting and development of prospects, but Hextall refused to sacrifice any of it to take a big swing in trades or free agency. That foundation appears to be paying off for the Flyers now, as they contend for the East Division crown while also still having a strong prospect system.
In Pittsburgh, he’ll be challenged right away, given the team’s win-now decree. The Penguins still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to anchor their forward group, meaning the Stanley Cup should always be a goal. But with those two stars and Kris Letang heading into their mid-thirties, it’s unclear if that’s a real possibility for the team at this juncture. Now it’s up to Hextall and Burke to decide where the franchise goes from here.