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Hextall Draws Limits on Penguins’ Trade Deadline



Pittsburgh Penguins, Ron Hextall. Penguins trade talk, NHL trade deadline

CRANBERRY — No selling, no expensive rentals. GM Ron Hextall drew lines on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ trade deadline plans.

The Penguins are trending the wrong way in almost every direction a week before the March 3 trade deadline. The lack of a restorative trade has Penguins fans chanting for the GM to be fired, the team is losing with regularity, and the team is so close to the salary cap that not even waiving Kasperi Kapanen Friday freed enough room to activate defenseman Jan Rutta for Saturday’s game against St. Louis.

Following the public display of fan anger during the embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday, Hextall hosted an unexpected press conference at the Penguins’ practice facility.

Thursday, a small group of fans began chanting “Fire Hextall,” and the chorus quickly spread to much of the arena.

“It doesn’t impact me at all. I understand the fans’ frustrations. We have high expectations as well, and we haven’t met them,” Hextall said. “So I totally get it. When you’re a GM, you know what you’re signing up for. We work in the public eye, and they pay good money to come to the rink, and they certainly have the right to say whatever they choose. So it’s not going to affect anything I do or don’t …. since I was 22 and came into the league, criticism is part of the business, and you have to deal with it.”

Hextall had previously downplayed the idea of spending big assets, notably a first-round pick, to move salary to improve the team. However, in the weeks that followed, the Penguins have seldom been in the win column, instead dropping winnable games against the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils as well as a bewildering no-show loss to Edmonton.

Hextall didn’t alter his stance to keep draft assets, and further doubled down. The Penguins will not be acquiring any rentals.

“We’re going to do everything we can to improve the team, but we’re not looking to spend big assets on rentals. So if we’re going to spend a big asset, it’s going to help us this year and years to come. That decision has been made,” the GM said. “If we can do something, it makes sense for a few years here, and makes our team better, we’ll certainly do it.”

Adding intrigue to the Penguins’ deadline plans, the Washington Capitals hedged their bet against qualifying for the playoffs by trading a pair of pending UFAs to Boston for several high draft picks. Thursday. The move amounted to Washington becoming “sellers” at the deadline, despite being in the middle of the Eastern Conference wild-card race.

Hextall also brushed aside that possibility for the Penguins. Despite having a handful of potentially valuable free agents who could fetch a solid return on the trade market, Hextall said the Penguins are invested in this season.

“Our intent is to continue to try to make this team better this year and years beyond this year. We want to stay competitive. We made that commitment last summer with our core,” Hextall said. “Those (core) guys have played well. I guess the hardest part about our team right now is probably the volatility. It’s a tough one, quite frankly, to put a finger on.”

Hextall certainly isn’t the only one continually perplexed by the Penguins’ performances.

However, waiving Kapanen was a choice that may have been a long time coming, even if Hextall held off as long as possible before doing it.

“It was two years ago (that Kapanen) hit 30 points in 40 games and looked like he was a pretty good player,” said Hextall. “And the feeling was that last year was a bit of a down year and that he would bounce back. He’s still an almost half-a-point-a-game guy, and I think he can be a productive player. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked here. So a tough decision had to be made along the way. And that’s what this was with Kappy.”

It should be noted that Hextall spoke with finality about Kapanen. It surely did not seem to be a temporary demotion, with the possibility that he would work his way back to the NHL with the Penguins.

If he is not claimed on waivers, a summer buyout is possible, and would come with significant savings because of Kapanen’s age. The Penguins’ cap hit would be reduced to only $1.066 million for two seasons, down from his current $3.2 million hit.

Putting everything on the table, it seems Hextall is looking for players with term, recognizes the need to improve the third line but doesn’t seem inclined to spend future assets.

Hextall, like his team, is trying to thread a needle that may or may not be open. PHN asked specifically if Hextall believes the team, which has lost five of its last six and is winless in nine games against the Metro Division, can make the playoffs.

The answer was less important than how the question was answered. Hextall didn’t flinch or waver in his belief these Penguins could qualify for the playoffs.

Whether that belief, or others, is unfounded will be tested during the next two months, and judged by ownership and the paying populace, the same fans already on edge and not pleased with the results.