An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ New GM Ron Hextall

Ron Hextall

It’s been a wild season thus far for Penguins fans. After general manager Jim Rutherford surprisingly stepped down, a hole was left in the Penguins front office. This was just recently filled by Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. To them, welcome to Pittsburgh.

An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ New Management

To: Ron Hextall and Brian Burke

From: Penguins Nation

Subject: Welcome to Pittsburgh!

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been arguably the most successful NHL franchise over the course of the salary cap era. Fourteen straight playoff appearances, four Stanley Cup Final series and three Stanley Cup banners speak volumes to that. The Pittsburgh Penguins are an organization with a winning culture from Mario Lemieux down. 

We understand you may have done things a bit differently when you both have worked for different NHL organizations, but we all have the same goal in mind. The goal is, by whatever means necessary, to bring the Stanley Cup back to the great city of Pittsburgh. There is not a “Pittsburgh Penguins Model” to success unless you count tanking in order to increase their draft lottery chances.

Here is some advice from Penguins fans to Penguins management:

Evaluate the Team

Please do not come in and immediately start firing the coaching staff, trading the stars, and remodelling the arena. Walk into PPG Paints Arena with an open mind to evaluate the state of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise objectively. We understand the desire not to definitively state that every person in this organization has 100 percent job security for the next several years. There will be turnover. It is just the nature of the business. Immediately cleaning the house will not endear you to Penguins fans who have become very fond of some members of the organization. Take it slowly and tread carefully. 

Expectations are High

Fans expect a Stanley Cup every season. While unreasonable, this generation of Penguins fans remembers nothing beyond drafting Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby. Making the playoffs has become an expected and under-appreciated result for a regular season. Hear this: Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. You two must slowly temper expectations. The Big Three are getting older and the supporting cast is not able to make this team a consistent winner night in and night out.

“Burkie” has stated before that he does not believe the Pittsburgh Penguins are a Stanley Cup Contender as currently constructed. That claim begs the question: is it possible to rise from “pretender” to “contender” status in the Crosby & Co. era? If Burke and Hextall judge it is not possible to revive this team, then serious plans for dismantling this team need to be drawn up. 

Consult ownership and talk to the veterans on the team before making a drastic switch in direction. Have serious discussions with Crosby, Malkin, and Kris Letang for starters about whether they desire to play out the string in Pittsburgh and where they see the team.

Use Economic Sense

Please, please, please do not go out on July 1st or whenever free agency is in yet another off-kilter season and spend an exorbitant amount of money to overpay for a 3rd-pair defenseman or a 4th line forward. Brandon Tanev is amazing. His contract is not. Jack Johnson…let’s just leave that one alone. 

The Penguins have a lot of sizeable contracts on the books, most of which will expire in the next couple of seasons. Going into the 2023-24 season, the Penguins currently sit with only six players under contract. The Penguins have been blessed with several absolute steals by way of contracts. Besides the obvious of Sidney Crosby taking less, the Penguins have Jake Guentzel at a paltry $6M, Bryan Rust at $3.5M, and Brian Dumoulin at $4.1M. Committing long-term to defensemen may come back to bite the Penguins, but Marcus Pettersson and John Marino have plenty of time to improve even more. Mike Matheson on the other hand, well we might be seeing him for a while so let’s hope he gets his career back on track.

A Eulogy to the Dynasty 

This era and dynasty of the Pittsburgh Penguins, while not over, is slowly but continuously on the decline. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and potentially Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury are future Hall-of-Famers. With five Stanley Cups and multiple dynasties in the last 30 years comes periods of great resetting, rebuilding, and retooling. 

Under brand new General Manager Ron Hextall and President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, the Pittsburgh Penguins are about to enter another rebuild. It will not come immediately, as the mandate from ownership is to “go for it”, this season anyway. Missing the playoffs or another first-round humiliation will signal the rebuild. 

A rebuild after this season or the next really isn’t the worst thing for the Penguins. The Penguins have a lot of solid NHL-caliber players without trade protection that can fetch higher round draft picks and middle to higher-tier prospects if they choose to go that route. As much as some want to see the Penguins try to continue to win after the window is shut, it just doesn’t end well. See the Detroit Red Wings for reference. 

Pittsburgh is a great sports town, and the Penguins are indeed a first-class organization. It’s always “a great day for hockey!”

 

Signed,

Penguins Fans Worldwide

 

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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