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Molinari: Rethinking What Really Matters in Penguins’ Next GM



Jason Botterill

Do you — yes, you — have an opinion on who the Pittsburgh Penguins’ next general manager should be?

Thought so.

Just about everyone who pays even a little attention to this team seems to.

That’s understandable. After all, it’s a prominent and important job, and Fenway Sports Group’s decision on who fills that role probably is the single biggest variable in determining at least the short-term future of the franchise.

Toronto GM Kyle Dubas, whose contract is expiring, was a popular choice until a few days ago, when he made it known that he’s not interested in working for anyone except the Maple Leafs next season.

Eric Tulsky, the assistant GM in Carolina, appears to have plenty of backers, presumably because of the deep and balanced roster the Hurricanes have put together during his time there.

There’s no shortage of support for Mathieu Darche, the assistant GM in Tampa, where the Lightning won two of the past three Stanley Cups and reached the Cup final in the other.

And Jason Botterill, who rose to the role of associate GM with the Penguins before being named GM in Buffalo and who currently serves as Ron Francis’ assistant in Seattle, is hard to overlook. (And would be the choice of the guy whose name is atop this article.)

And let’s not forget John Chayka, Jason Karmanos and Dan MacKinnon, among others.

The hard truth, though, is that you’re wrong.

In fact, we’re all wrong.

Oh, some folks eventually will be proven to have backed the winning candidate (assuming FSG doesn’t hire someone whose presence in the competition has gone completely undetected), but even those people who are right likely will be so for all the wrong reasons.

That’s because everyone who is backing a particular GM prospect is doing it largely on the basis of how that individual has performed in the past, which is the extent of the information available to anyone outside of FSG’s tight group of corporate decisions-makers.

And while examining an individual’s performance in a current or previous position can offer some insight on how that person might operate in the future, the most important factor in selecting Ron Hextall’s successor should be the plan candidates put forth to deal with ownership’s dual objectives of immediately returning to contention for a championship while developing the organizational depth and quality that will be needed for the Pittsburgh Penguins to be competitive after the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Kris Letang core has left the game.

(Whether it’s realistic to expect anyone to do achieve goals both simultaneously, even though they seem to be in direct conflict, is a fair subject for debate.)

As impressive and diverse as the resumes of all of the known (or, at least, believed) candidates are, none of them have dealt with a situation quite like the one the next GM will step into here.

Many, if not most, have helped an organization get through a rebuild, or contributed to fine-tuning the makeup of a Stanley Cup contender, as Darche did with the Lightning.

It’s not often, however, that a GM has a mandate to do both at the same time.

There are few, if any, precedents for the multi-faceted challenge(s) that will face whoever gets the job, which is why it’s foolhardy to proclaim with conviction who should get the job, based solely on what that individual has done in the past.

Simply overseeing an organizational rebuild will be only half the job here; same with a short-term upgrade of the major-league roster.

No one under consideration for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ GM job has done both simultaneously, so what they’ve accomplished to this point in their careers has earned them only the right to be a candidate, to sell FSG executives on their vision for overcoming the imposing challenge(s) ahead.

Whoever presents the best plan — and reasonably demonstrates the potential to execute it — should get the nameplate on the GM’s office at PPG Paints Arena.