Pittsburgh Penguins hit a home run with Ron Hextall hire

Ron Hextall, General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Ron Hextall, General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Penguins have hit a home run with the Ron Hextall hire.

It was announced earlier today that the Pittsburgh Penguins have hired former NHL goaltender Ron Hextall as their new General Manager, bringing to an end a rapid search for a replacement for Jim Rutherford who suddenly stepped down just a week ago.

That wasn’t the only change to the front office, however, with the Penguins also hiring long-time NHL executive Brian Burke as their President of Hockey Operations, giving the former Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks GM a route back into the front office following a spell in the media at Sportsnet.

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Hextall will report directly to Burke, who will report to Pittsburgh’s CEO and Team President, David Morehouse, and there will certainly be a lot of experience in that newly-formed front office for the Penguins when it comes to constructing a roster and building a competitive team, a Stanley Cup winner in Burke’s case who was the General Manager of the Anaheim Ducks team that won a championship in 2006-07.

And, while we will get to the Brian Burke portion of this shortly, there is no doubt that Ron Hextall is an incredibly good hire for the Pittsburgh Penguins, both now and looking ahead to the future. He did a good job in Philadelphia with the Flyers and, in the eyes of many, was wrongly fired back on Nov. 26, 2018, since working with the LA Kings in different capacities. But, study the Flyers roster now, a team that is flourishing, and Hextall’s fingerprints can be found all over it.

Ron Hextall is the right man for the Pittsburgh Penguins both now and in the future

He successfully dragged the Flyers out of salary cap hell and also rebuilt what was a seriously depleted farm system. Hextall injected a fresh wave of talent into a pipeline that had long been drained, drafting the likes of Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. And, if Carter Hart develops into the franchise goaltender that the Flyers have long craved, and he’s certainly on that trajectory right now, then Philadelphia fans will need to thank Hextall who identified the stud as being the chosen one between the pipes.

Plus, Hextall was also responsible for drafting high-end prospects in Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee who both look set to have a very bright future with the Flyers, while Farabee has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2020-21 NHL season with 12 points (6 G, 6 A) in 13 games, including his first career hat trick against the New York Islanders earlier this year. It is clear, then, that Ron Hextall has both the resume and the pedigree to be able to rebuild a Pittsburgh Penguins farm system that has very little talent in it.

Granted, there were mistakes made by Hextall including hiring Dave Hakstol as Head Coach and his decision to bring forward James van Riemsdyk back on a five-year, $35 million contract in the summer of 2018 looked to have backfired at first, although it is certainly panning out now for the Flyers with van Riemsdyk having racked up 18 points (7 G, 11 A) in 13 games.

However, there is no denying that Hextall left the Philadelphia Flyers in a better place than when he first got there, and we are seeing the fruits of his labor play out currently. So, with his reputation for being able to draft incredibly well in place, it is safe to assume that the Pittsburgh Penguins had the long-term future in mind when hiring Ron Hextall.

After all, former GM Jim Rutherford was famous for going all out and giving away a plethora of draft picks in order to help Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang win now. Of course, that bold approach brought two Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh but, in doing so, it completely depleted the farm system of both draft capital and high-end prospects, something this team is now paying the price for with the window rapidly closing.

Therefore, Hextall will be tasked with doing in Pittsburgh what he did in Philadelphia and that will be to rebuild the farm system, replenish the pipeline, stock up on draft capital and put pieces in place that can become the face of this franchise in the future. Hextall made a total of 42 draft picks with the Flyers across five draft classes, with eight of those selections coming in the First Round.

Sixteen of those players have already appeared in the NHL and, as we mentioned previously, many of them are now part of an exciting young core in Philadelphia that hope to spearhead the Flyers to a long-awaited return to the glory days. Hextall also put some young pieces in place during his time as Assistant General Manager with the LA Kings, helping to bolster a roster that won two Stanley Cups.

And that’s the other big factor to remember here. It is clear that the Penguins will always be in win-now mode as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on the roster, and that’s perhaps why Brian Burke was brought in as President of Hockey Operations to help Hextall make moves in the present that will help Crosby and Malkin win one more championship, and that will almost certainly be the case this season.

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But, make no mistake about it, Ron Hextall’s vision will be for the long-term and he will be focussed on ensuring that bad contracts don’t become major albatrosses down the road, he will stock up on draft capital and he will also make it his priority to sort out and then bolster and beef up what is a razor thin farm system, putting in place a rich pipeline that can ensure any rebuild isn’t a long one and the eventual transition from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the next generation can be a seamless one. He will also have the tools to help that duo try and run it back at least one more time over the next couple of years, but there is no doubt that Ron Hextall is a home run of an appointment for the Pittsburgh Penguins.