What would make someone who had been the architect of two Stanley Cup-winning teams to suddenly… leave? Were there “creative differences” internally? Was there a scandal brewing? Or did the job just get old? I don’t know if we’ll ever know for sure but Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford stepped down suddenly on January 27th.
After a brief search, the Penguins have changed directions quite dramatically and hired two new front office staff. The new General Manager is former Flyers GM, Ron Hextall and the new President of Hockey Operations is Brian Burke. Both bring a ton of experience and have lifted the Cup in previous front office roles. The Penguins are a team with little time left if they want to win again. Were these the right hires?
Upon retiring as an NHL goaltender, Ron Hextall brings with him to Pittsburgh over 20 years of NHL management experience. Prior to his four-year stint as GM of the Flyers from 2014-2018, he was assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings from 2006-2013. During his time in LA, he helped construct the team that would go on to win the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup in 2012.
Brian Burke never played a game in the NHL but brings with him over 30 years of NHL front office experience. He served as General Manager for the Hartford Whalers (shows how long he’s been in the game), Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and won a Stanley Cup as GM for the Anaheim Ducks. Burke even brings some league experience to the table as the director of hockey ops for the NHL.
Both Hextall and Burke seem to be excited to be in Pittsburgh. “I’ve worked for a number of teams, but I don’t recall being this excited about taking a job,” Burke said. “I think Pittsburgh is probably the best sports town in North America. I’m excited about working with Hexy. We go back a long ways.” The funny thing is, Burke said earlier this season the Penguins window was shut. I know it’s just something you have to say to get likes and retweets but hopefully this mentality brings a little bit of urgency along with it.
Penguins in Trouble
The Penguins have aging stars who have been with the team since I was a freshman in college (15 years ago, ugh). Young guys who have severely underachieved (thus far), shaky goaltending (bring back Fleury!), and if things don’t change soon, head coach Mike Sullivan will be the first casualty. Brian Burke is known for his no nonsense approach and there could be a storm brewin’. If the Penguins don’t start winning consistently, I expect some well known Penguins to be out the door. It won’t be for the feint of heart either.
After a quick playoff oust in the 2019-2020 season, I welcome this change in leadership. I’m not sure what is going to come from these changes. However, I don’t think the team as we know it today will be the team that finishes the season. If the Penguins can’t get their act together soon, Pittsburgh is going to be even gloomier than usual this winter.
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