With falling temperatures around Pittsburgh, that usually means hockey season is here. With the coronavirus pandemic spiking again, however, there’s no knowing when the next season will begin. The Penguins have made just about all of their moves during this crazy offseason, though some of them have come out of left field. On October 26th, the Penguins announced that former assistant general manager Jason Karmanos was relieved of his duties. It shocked a lot of people around the city, even a bunch of the media writers. When general manager Jim Rutherford was asked about it, he declined to get into specifics:
Just spoke with GMJR about today's moves. Asked about the Jason Karmanos firing, Rutherford said, "I’m not going to get into the reasons."
— Mike DeFabo (@MikeDeFabo) October 26, 2020
Is Pittsburgh Penguins Ownership Starting to Send a Message?
Something about this seems fishy and even after a couple of weeks, there’s still been no definitive answers as to why he was fired. This might be one of the moves that Pittsburgh Penguins ownership made Rutherford do, to send a message to him. Karmanos was considered one of Rutherford’s right-hand men. He hired him in Carolina when he was there and then Karmanos followed Rutherford to Pittsburgh in 2014. Why would he fire him now, when the team is just a few weeks removed from the draft and free agency? Do Lemieux and Burkle think, by removing one of Rutherford’s long-time partners, will get him to stop making mistakes?
This is usually an ownership group that will let the players play, the coaches coach, and the general manager assemble the team. But if this is a warning to Rutherford, could he be next in line to get the ax if Pittsburgh bows out quickly again? He’s going to have to hope that the moves he made this offseason work out for him.
Is Mike Sullivan on Borrowed Time?
A message could also have been sent to head coach Mike Sullivan this offseason. All of his assistant coaches were fired after the Penguins lost to Montreal. The ones that were hired to take their places (Mike Vellucci & Todd Reirden) both have a lot of experience as a head coach. Reirden, of course, is coming off being the former head coach of the Washington Capitals. Both of these coaches aren’t the typical “yes men” that will just listen to whatever the head coach says. They will likely push Sullivan with his lineup choices, such as the Cody Ceci–Chad Ruhwedel debate.
If the Penguins struggle out of the gate for the first half of next season, could ownership then demand a change with him? It’s more realistic than some may think due to two straight first-round exits for the Penguins. This absolutely is the biggest year of Mike Sullivan’s coaching tenure in Pittsburgh.
Was the Hornqvist Trade a Message to the Core of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang?
It was a surprise to a whole lot of people when Patric Hornqvist was traded this offseason. Rutherford had just signed him to a contract extension a couple of years prior and he looked deemed to finish his career out in Pittsburgh. Hornqvist even had a good 2019-20 season, with 17 goals and 32 points in 52 games. 14 of those goals came at even-strength which is also pretty remarkable.
The trade was made in part due to the Penguins wanting to get younger and faster going into next season but there may be something more that went into it. Could ownership have mandated that Rutherford move one of the players that the core really respects? Hornqvist was widely considered to be one of the most emotional leaders in that locker room. He would give the team the extra gear that they needed at times, especially if they’re down. By getting him out, it could send a message to the core players that this is unacceptable and something needs to change. If Pittsburgh were to bow out early again next season, who’s to say that ownership wouldn’t do it to another player?
This is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing seasons of the Crosby/Malkin era. The message may not be loud from the top brass of the Penguins organization but it’s abundantly clear: Win or suffer the consequences.