It was quickly obvious that new Pittsburgh Penguins President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke knows how to handle an audience. On Tuesday, as the Penguins introduced the new front office regime led by Burke and new general manager Ron Hextall, the storylines were too many to count.
And the quotable Burke, who spent the last couple of seasons working as a studio analyst for Sportsnet, racked up points.
“I’ve worked for a number of teams, but I don’t recall being this excited about taking a job. Every single job I’ve taken, I’ve been excited, but I don’t recall being this excited,” Burke said in his opening remarks. “I think Pittsburgh is probably the best sports town in North America.”
In the wrestling world, that’s called a cheap pop, but it underscored the enthusiasm Burke hoped to convey.
Read up on the full press conference from Pittsburgh Hockey Now, here.
It’s not that Hextall is without his ties to Pittsburgh, which he too sought to be known. His father played with the Penguins in the early 1970s. This is where Hextall began playing hockey, and it was former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, then the Penguins goalie, who bestowed some equipment upon Hextall.
“He was my biggest idol, so I’d like to make a little call out to Jimmy,” Hextall said.
And Rutherford played street hockey with the young Hextall, too.
But more quotes from Burke:
“I’m excited to work with Hexy. We go back a long way. I think David Morehouse is one of the top executives in the National Hockey League and all of pro sports. I think the ownership group with Mario Lemieux is second to none,” said Burke. “And, remember back in the lottery in ’04, (as GM of the Anaheim Ducks), I just missed on Sidney Crosby, well now I’ve got Sidney Crosby.”
The Anaheim Ducks and the Penguins were the finalists in that draft lottery. Though it was 2005, forget it, he’s rolling.
Pittsburgh Penguins President of Hockey Operations
Let’s not brush past creating a new position within the Penguins organization and a prominent role. Rutherford worked with a team of assistant GMs beneath him and reported to Morehouse.
No, we still don’t know the story of why Rutherford resigned so abruptly on Jan. 27. Perhaps only he and Morehouse know, and neither has spilled the beans.
Instead of Hextall hiring AGMs, the Penguins created the PoHO position above the GM. Morehouse characterized it nonchalantly, but such a move was anything but a cavalier suggestion from above.
“I had a lot of different people that I was talking to about the different (GM) candidates. I had my trusted group, and Burky was one of those,” Morehouse said. “And, I was talking to Mario. We were going through, and Ron was the guy we all wanted. And I was talking to Mario, and he said, ‘Burky. What about Burky?’
So, I called Burky and said Mario just asked me to give you a call. And there was silence on the other end of the phone…”
While Morehouse described the creation of the position almost as a whim, it assuredly was not. Such things cannot be, and the tell-tale signs that it would be created bubbled in undertones and whispers last week.
PHN figured something more significant was afoot when some people close to Lemieux reported that he had retreated to study the situation’s seriousness. One termed Lemieux as “in the bunker.”
The Penguins installed a Harvard lawyer between the GM and the team President.
“Burky said, ‘you know David if it was anyone else, I’d be able to tell you no, but can I sleep on it?'” Morehouse recalled. “So, I called him back the next day. He talked to his family a little bit…”
More Stories and Quips
The person lucky enough to ask the pressing question was Josh Yohe of the Athletic. We’ll give full props to Josh for asking Hextall if he would bring Robby Brown back to the organization.
For you whippersnappers not old enough to remember, Brown scored 49 goals beside Lemieux in 1988-89. His famous goal celly was a Pete Townsend worthy windmill (please don’t ask, “who is Pete Townsend?”). After the Penguins took a 9-4 lead in Game 5 at the Civic Arena (yes, 9-3. Lemieux also had five goals), Brown windmilled after his goal, and Hextall bolted from the crease and angrily chased Brown around the ice with ill-intent.
(Brown recalled the story and other Penguins memories for us during the first pandemic pause).
Unfortunately, Hextall couldn’t hear the full question, though Burke did hear it and let out a hearty laugh. Hextall picked a question he wanted to answer and dropped a few soundbytes of his own.
“The Penguins-Flyers rivalry is a terrific rivalry, and it’s going to continue. It’s been great,” Hextall said. “I love rivalries. I love hating the other team. It’s what makes sports special. It’s a little different when you’re sitting up top because you can’t go and grab the other manager or somebody from the other side and go. I love rivalries.”
I don’t ever recall GMs squaring off in the press box, but dear God would I grab a plate of nachos for that. Media don’t fight, some just snipe on Twitter like Mean Girls, but I digress.
And more from Burke:
“(Doing TV), I learned I should smile more than I do. Everyone watching on TV would send me notes, ‘Smile once in a while.’ … the story David told you (of the hiring process), he’s not exaggerating one little bit,” said Burke. “When he called back, I would have said no if it was anyone else but David Morehouse and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I was happy with my life. I liked living in Toronto. But you get to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins, man. You’re talking Cadillac class, here.”
Yep, Burke certainly knows how to drop a quote.