The Pittsburgh Penguins have relieved president of hockey operations Brian Burke, general manager Ron Hextall, and assistant general manager Chris Pryor of their duties, the team said in a release Friday morning.
Pittsburgh’s changes in leadership come after the team missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006, done in by a 5-2 loss to the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks in their final game on home ice this season. The firings come as no surprise, given the team’s questionable approach to the trade deadline and their status as the oldest team in the league.
The search for new leadership in Pittsburgh will begin immediately, the team said. The interim management group will consist of director of hockey operations Alec Schall, AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton general manager Erik Heasley, and hockey operations analyst Andy Saucier. Head coach Mike Sullivan will also be involved, per the team.
John Henry and Tom Werner of Pittsburgh’s ownership, Fenway Sports Group, had this to say:
We are grateful to Brian, Ron, and Chris for their contributions to the organization over the past two seasons, but we feel that the team will benefit from new hockey operations leadership. While this season has been disappointing, we believe in our core group of players and the goal of contending for the Stanley Cup has not changed.
Pittsburgh’s next general manager will be given an important task: guiding the team through the twilight years of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. All three are signed through at least 2025, and given they’re all still playing at elite levels, the team will undoubtedly do whatever it can to surround them with talent. It’s unlikely the team enters a rebuild before at least two out of their core three retire.
While the team does have some undesirable anchor contracts, they have a fair amount of roster flexibility to retool in free agency this off-season. The team has $17.15MM coming off the books in unrestricted free agents, including Jason Zucker and Brian Dumoulin, but they’ll also need to either extend Tristan Jarry or decide to let him walk. While he’s posted solid numbers in recent years, injuries continue to plague a promising career, and the team could opt to shop for a different starting goalie in free agency or on the trade market.
Those are the types of dilemmas the new regime in Pittsburgh will have to solve, aiming to inject some life into a team that’s grown stagnant over the past few seasons. Pittsburgh has not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2018 when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. It’s a trend growing reminiscent of the mid-2010s Detroit Red Wings, who sustained three consecutive first-round losses to end a 25-year postseason streak.