Pittsburgh Penguins: Brian Burke’s hiring may be peace offering for Crosby

President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames Brian Burke. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames Brian Burke. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Brian Burke is an interesting hire for the Pittsburgh Penguins and it seems to be more short-term.

It was announced on Monday that the Pittsburgh Penguins had concluded their rapid search for Jim Rutherford‘s replacement after hiring Ron Hextall as their new General Manager. However, the franchise made waves by announcing that they had also hired long-time NHL executive Brian Burke as their President of Hockey Operations.

People throughout hockey were stunned at the news, including Burke’s media colleagues at Sportsnet who didn’t see this coming and felt that the former, Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks General Manager was happy in his media role in Toronto, while others were just shocked that the Penguins would hire someone who has been out of the game for a while.

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However, Burke himself has told the story in the last couple of days on how close he was to landing Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Lottery Draft with his Anaheim Ducks team the runner-up to the Pittsburgh Penguins in winning the rights to select a true generational talent with the No. 1 overall pick.

Well, Burke will now finally get the chance to work closely with Crosby and it seems clear that Burke has been hired to help the Penguins extend their window and continue to win now in order to try and give their franchise icon and Captain at least one more opportunity to add a fourth ring to his collection.

We’ve already covered it but Ron Hextall was the right hire for the Penguins given his track record and resume when it comes to rebuilding franchises, replenishing farm systems and stocking up on valuable future assets. I mean, he helped put certain building blocks in place while working as an Assistant GM for the LA Kings, but it is his work as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers that really stands out.

Brian Burke
Brian Burke (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Brian Burke was brought in to help Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins win now

While he was fired in 2018 for prolonging the rebuild in the eyes of some, you can find Hextall’s fingertips all over the Flyers team that is flourishing right now and looking like a legit contender. He drafted what looks to be the franchise goaltender this organization has long craved in Carter Hart, while he was also responsible for drafting and then developing the likes of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee, all of whom are key cogs in that Philadelphia lineup and look to be part of an incredibly exciting and talent-laden core for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, it seems feasible that, while Hextall will of course try to make moves to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win now while they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on the roster, his long-term focus and priority will be to completely rebuild what is a barren farm system, get the team out under from some bad contracts and stock up on picks that he can use to flood the pipeline with high-end talent that can form the bedrock of this franchise for years to come.

After all, Hextall made a total of 42 draft picks across five Draft classes during his time with the Flyers, with eight of those selections coming in the First Round, and he will look to do the same with the Penguins given that they have very little in way of high-end talent considering that the likes of Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Samuel Poulin are probably the main assets they have in the pipeline currently.

What about the now though? Well, this is where Brian Burke comes in. While he and Hextall will of course work together in lockstep, it seems to me that Burke was hired in order to assure Sidney Crosby that the franchise was still dedicated to winning now and doing whatever it takes to put a contender on the ice over the next couple of years.

Sidney Crosby (87)
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

After all, Burke won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07 and one of his most aggressive moves came during that year, when he traded an absolute haul to the Edmonton Oilers for Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger, including two First Round picks and forward Joffrey Lupul. That incredibly bold move obviously paid off as Pronger proved to be the final piece the Ducks needed to push themselves to the top of the mountain and win a championship, and it would not surprise me if Burke looks to make a similar move with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This is also another opportunity for Burke to win another ring and perhaps cement his own legacy, and while he claimed during his media role a couple of months ago that the window was closed for the Pens, he will now work with Crosby to ensure that the window is rather prised back open and don’t be surprised if Burke makes an aggressive move or two, maybe involving Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang, to put the necessary pieces around Crosby so that he can lead the Penguins to one more championship.

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Then, should that happen, I think Sidney Crosby would probably be more comfortable being part of a bigger rebuild and being comfortable with Ron Hextall doing his thing by rebuilding a prospect pool that is currently ranked 29th in the entire National Hockey League by The Athletic. In the meantime, though, it does appear as though this new front office tandem will commit to an all-in approach to this year at least and that’s why I think Brian Burke was appointed as President of Hockey Operations out of the blue; to come in and make the required moves to help this core win one more championship while using his vast experience to put a winner on the ice now, allowing Hextall to focus more on the future and preparing this storied organization for life after Sidney Crosby.