BREAKING: Penguins Fire Hextall, Burke, Pryor
The Pittsburgh Penguins have fired GM Ron Hextall after little more than two years on the job. President of hockey operations Brian Burke and AGM Chris Pryor are also out.
No successors have been named.
The move comes in the wake of the Penguins’ failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006.
John Henry and Tom Werner of the Fenway Sports Group, which owns the franchise, issued this statement in announcing the moves:
“We are grateful to Brian, Ron and Chris for their contributions to the organization over the past two seasons, but we feel that the team will benefit from new hockey operations leadership. While this season has been disappointing, we believe in our core group of players and the goal of contending for the Stanley Cup has not changed.”
Until replacements are hired, the Penguins’ hockey operations will be overseen by Alex Schall, the director of hockey operations, Erik Heasley, GM of the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre and Audy Saucier, the team’s hockey operations analyst. Coach Mike Sullivan also will be involved.
Hextall and Burke were hired Feb. 9, 2021, a few weeks after Jim Rutherford unexpectedly stepped down as GM.
At the time, bringing in Hextall was widely regarded as an indication that the ownership group at the time, headed by Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, was preparing to begin moving on from an aging core that had played a prominent role in three Stanley Cup championships.
Building up an organization’s prospects pool and depth was seen as Hextall’s strength, and after years or trading early-round draft choices for short-term lineup upgrades, the Penguins clearly needed that.
However, when the Penguins re-signed Kris Letang (six years) and Evgeni Malkin (four years) to long-term contracts in 2022, it was clear that most, if not all, of the emphasis was on trying to cobble together a team that could contend for another championship.
That obviously did not happen.
Hextall made some controversial moves during his tenure, like re-signing unrestricted free agent Kasperi Kapanen last summer. Kapanen went to St. Louis on waivers this winter.
He also made a series of trades as the NHL trade deadline approached last month that, while appearing to be well-conceived, did not work out.
Hextall sent a second-round draft choice to Nashville for Mikael Granlund, whose resume suggested he was a nice fit for a middle-six role. However, he proved to be a virtual non-factor, especially offensively, after joining the Penguins.
Bringing back Nick Bonino to center the fourth line appeared to be a solid decision, but Bonino suffered a lacerated kidney in his third game here and did not play again. Dmitry Kulikov was brought in from Anaheim to add defensive depth and perhaps upgrade the No. 3 pairing, but he was injured in his fourth game and missed the 14 that followed.
None of those deadline additions played a meaningful role in the final weeks of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season.