- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dramatically reshaped their front office Tuesday, hiring Brian Burke as president of hockey operations and Ron Hextall as the team’s new general manager.
“We feel incredibly lucky to bring in two highly respected executives with a combined 50-plus years of NHL management experience,” said Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse, to whom Burke will report.
Patrik Allvin, who became interim GM of the Penguins when Jim Rutherford resigned on Jan. 27 for personal reasons, will return to his role as assistant GM.
Hextall, 56, became the front-runner for the general manager opening during the second round of interviews for the Penguins. Other executives under consideration included Colorado Avalanche assistant GM Chris MacFarland, Boston Bruins director of player personal John Ferguson Jr., former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter, former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis and former NHL player and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes.
Hextall was the general manager for the rival Philadelphia Flyers for four seasons (2014-18) and was a long-tenured member of the Los Angeles Kings front office, as assistant general manager and an advisor. He’s credited with drafting well and developing the minor league system for both organizations.
He played 608 games as an NHL goaltender, winning both the Vezina Trophy as top netminder and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for the Flyers in 1986-87.
While Hextall was heavily rumored to be in the mix for the Penguins job, Burke’s hiring shocked the hockey world. The 65-year-old had followed his 31 years as an NHL executive with a featured role on Sportsnet’s NHL coverage in Canada, as one of its most popular commentators.
Burke previously served as general manager of the Hartford Whalers, Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and Maple Leafs. He was most recently director of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames until April 2018. He built the Ducks into a Stanley Cup champion in 2006-07.
“To me, Pittsburgh is a take-your-breath-away destination for any GM or president of hockey ops,” Burke said. “I’m so excited for the opportunity. The Penguins are a storied franchise with outstanding ownership in Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and Pittsburgh is just a great hockey city. Ron Hextall and I are very fortunate. We can’t wait to get started.”
The Penguins are 5-5-1 this season for a .500 points percentage. Turning the team into a Stanley Cup contender again is seen as a challenge. Its core of stars — Sidney Crosby (33), Evgeni Malkin (34) and Kris Letang (33) — are aging past their primes. The team doesn’t have a first-round pick this season and had the 31st-ranked prospect pipeline in ESPN’s recent rankings.
“If you don’t have a job, they are all desirable,” one NHL general manager told ESPN. “The only possible issue could be if ownership was unstable. But that’s not the case in Pittsburgh. So it’s a very desirable job.”
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