Pittsburgh Penguins announce the hires of a Flyers’ legend and a former Cup winner

Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

It appears that the job of replacing former general manager Jim Rutherford will be handled by two—former Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender and GM Ron Hextall and former Anaheim Ducks’ GM Brian Burke

It’s probably safe to say that Jimmy Rutherford was not a very popular hire when the Penguins announced him as Ray Shero’s replacement in 2014.

Greg Wyshynski labeled the hire as “untraditional and illogical” and Sean Gentille called Rutherford “a fairly, uninspiring choice.” Adrian Dater took it up a notch and called Rutherford “a worn out old tire” in an article ripping the Penguins for hiring the former Stanley Cup winner.

Such is the nature of the beast. Rutherford was seen as an aging asset, who hadn’t done anything with the Hurricanes since winning the Cup in 2006. After roughly six and a half years at the helm, the Penguins won two Stanley Cups and hadn’t missed the playoffs once. Not bad for an old tire, huh?

The Penguins announced Hextall as the new GM and Burke as the new president of hockey operations Tuesday afternoon. It’s early, but no one has called Hextall or Burke an old tire yet. At least, that I’ve seen. However, Burke has definitely seen his fair share of criticism on social media already.

Let’s jump into the hires.

Ron Hextall has been brought in to oversee the day-to-day operations as the Penguins’ new GM

Hextall might’ve spent over a decade as the goaltender of the Penguins’ archrivals, and four and a half as their GM, but he has a link to the Pens, too.

Bryan Hextall Jr. spent five seasons with the Penguins in the late 60s and early 70s, playing brutal games against the Broad Street Bullies at the time, and Ron had the chance to watch his predecessor with the Penguins occupy the net while playing with his father. Life comes at you fast—or 50 years later in this case.

Hextall exploded onto the NHL scene himself in 1986-87, winning the Vezina and Conn Smythe (one of five members of the losing team to ever win the award) as a rookie goaltender with the Flyers. He was known as an aggressive and fiery goaltender who inspired the likes of Martin Brodeur and others in the years to come.

Named as the GM of the Flyers in 2014, Hextall was instrumental in building the Flyers team that currently sits second in the East Division, seven points higher than the Penguins.

Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 2018 that he felt the Flyers made the wrong choice in firing Hextall.

"Citing philosophical differences, club president Paul Holmgren canned Hextall. In the statement he released, Holmgren said nothing about how Hextall had masterfully gotten the Flyers out of cap hell — created by Holmgren when he was the general manager. Neither did he mention the numerous draft picks Hextall had acquired over his five years, or that he had rebuilt a failing farm system."

With the Penguins core seemingly trailing off, Hextall could very well be tasked with completely overhauling a barren farm system in the years to come. Or, he could be tasked with maximizing the remaining years of the Sidney Crosby era. It appears that Hextall is well-equipped for either future.

Under Hextall’s reign, the Flyers notably drafted Nolan Patrick (meh), Ivan Provorov (nice), Joel Farabee (nice), Travis Sanheim (nice), Travis Konecny (nice), Carter Hart (really nice), Nicolas Aube-Kubel (nice) and Oscar Lindblom (nice).

Patrick, looking back now, doesn’t seem to be worth the second overall pick, but it is very early. Provorov, Farabee, Sanheim and Konecny were excellent mid-to-late first round picks while Hart was a home run in the second round.

Hextall was, obviously, fired by the Flyers in 2018, and he’s been forced to watch a team that he’s built excel. He’ll now have a chance to lead the Penguins against his former team. I think Hextall was about as good a hire the Pens could have made, especially considering the circumstances.

Brian Burke will serve as Hextall’s higher up, manning the post of president of hockey operations for the Penguins

Burke has been around the NHL for a long, long time now, serving in many, many roles.

The 65-year-old got his start with the Vancouver Canucks, serving as the GM from 1998-2004, and drafted the likes of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. As the GM of the Ducks in the 2006-07 season, he led the team to a Stanley Cup title.

From 2008-2013, Burke served as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his tenure was mired in mediocrity with criticism coming from trade and coaching decisions. His most maligned trade centered around former Penguin Phil Kessel, too. It’s a small world.

Burke served as the president of hockey operations with the Calgary Flames starting in 2013, before stepping into the GM position after firing the GM and assistant GM. In 2018, Burke stepped down and had served as an analyst with Sportsnet until being hired by the Penguins.

With the Penguins, Burke will once again serve as the president of hockey ops, in between Pens’ president and CEO David Morehouse and Hextall.

Burke, who like Rutherford, has seen success and a championship in his time as an executive in the NHL before arriving in Pittsburgh, has been more poorly received than Hextall.

The Rutherford and Burke hirings are certainly different, with Rutherford serving as GM and Burke as president of hockey ops AND GM, but both were/have been lambasted as being holdovers of the old era of hockey. Burke certainly has an old-school approach to building a team, as evidenced by his moves with the Leafs and Flames.

Burke said in his book, Burke’s Law, he was done with being on NHL teams. Now, according to his Twitter page, he couldn’t be more excited to be back in the NHL.

Burke seems to have big plans with the Penguins, raving about Pittsburgh as a sports city and lamenting his near-miss of Crosby in 2005, so it seems that Pittsburgh was the ideal team to pull him out of retirement. Or, no one was interested in bringing him back to the league until the Pens… we’ll go with the latter.

For better or worse, Burke is the president of hockey ops with the Penguins now, and if we learned anything from Rutherford, it’s to not write someone off for being an old dinosaur. Which Burke is.

I don’t love the Burke hire, as there are many questions about the relationship between Morehouse, Burke and Hextall. There’s a lot going on in the Penguins’ front office, and after having someone like Rutherford who dominated the scene, it’s going to be a very interesting transition.

Hextall has his advantages, Burke has his own, and hopefully, their relationship will be a little bit of give and take. If there’s one thing that’s pretty clear, it’s that there are going to be some changes coming to the Penguins soon.

Whether the Penguins can continue to compete in the NHL will rest upon the shoulders of Hextall and Burke. So, let’s see how they do.