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Hextall: Tuning Out Sullivan? Pack Your Bags



Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan

CRANBERRY — Ron Hextall had a chance Sunday to say that he has no concerns that any of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ players are tuning out Mike Sullivan, their coach for more than seven years.

He passed.

But Hextall also left no doubt that if he determines any player is doing so, someone will be moving on.

And it won’t be Sullivan.

“I would put him up against any coach in the league,” Hextall said. “And if there are any players who aren’t responding to him, I would more look to move those players.”

On other issues, Hextall:

*** Suggested it’s unlikely that a scenario will arise under which the Penguins would be a seller at the March 3 trade deadline. “I certainly hope not,” he said. “If we play the way we’re capable of playing, I see us certainly making the playoffs. With injuries and with our inconsistencies this year, I guess it’s a fair question.”

*** Noted that in the pre-pandemic NHL, he liked to maintain about a $2 million cushion of space below the salary-cap ceiling to allow for call-ups, trades and other personnel moves. But because the ceiling has gone up only nominally over the past few seasons, doing so has become more challenging.

“With the flat cap, frankly, it’s become much more difficult,” Hextall said. “If you want to go into the season with a team that you think is a little lesser (to preserve cap space) and go those first two or three months with maybe one lesser player or a player who’s not as good as (another) player.

“Last summer, we wanted to sign (Evgeni Malkin) and we wanted to sign (Kris Letang) and we knew it was going to cost us. … If you’re asking me if I’d rather have one less of our top players and have a couple of million dollars, I would say the answer is ‘No.’ ”

*** Offered his thoughts on balancing the Pittsburgh Penguins’ current needs with their ones in coming seasons. “My job is to look at this team today, tomorrow, a year from now, two, three years from now,” he said. “But right now, our focus is on having the best team possible this year. You know, without doing silly things for the future. But if we can do something to make us better this year, we’re going to look to do it.

“Right now, with the team we have, we want to make the playoffs and be as good as we can be going into mid-April. So that is the focus, and the focus will continue to be there.”

*** Acknowledged a lack of consistency in the performance of No. 2 goalie Casey DeSmith. “Casey’s been good at times,” he said. “The Washington game (a 4-3 shootout loss Jan. 26) was a good example where he was very good and other times he wasn’t as good as we need him to be.”