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Kingerski: Where is Ron Hextall?

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NHL Trade deadline, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall

There has not been a Pittsburgh Penguins trade in over seven months. It’s not like Penguins GM Ron Hextall is on golf vacations or jet-setting around the world and neglecting his duties. No, the Penguins’ GM is at most, if not all, games. He is frequently seen popping into the coach’s office for brief visits after road games and frequently is beside the president of hockey operations, Brian Burke.

Attendance isn’t Hextall’s problem.

Actions are.

Hextall hasn’t moved a player into or out of the organization since July 16, when he acquired Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling for Mike Matheson and a fourth-rounder.

That was more than seven months and 44 games ago. For a team fighting to stay afloat and extend its streak of playoff appearances to 17 years, the inaction stands in stark contrast to his predecessors. Continuing the analogy, the hull has been breached, and the boat is taking on water.

The Penguins hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but are not making up ground on the rest of the Metropolitan Division. They are 10 points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils and 11 behind the Carolina Hurricanes, to whom they lost all four games this season.

Based on games-in-hand, the Penguins are one to five points ahead of the New York Islanders, four to six points ahead of the improving Buffalo Sabres for that final spot, and four to eight points ahead of the reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers.

No one should feel comfortable about that.

Securing the 17th straight playoff appearance is no longer a formality. It seems in greater peril than at any time since the beginning of coach Mike Sullivan’s tenure in December, 2015.

Hextall signed Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen last summer, committing a total of $4.2 million to fourth-line, press-box players who have contributed nothing close to comparable value for the expense.

Instead, the Penguins have less than $100,000 in salary-cap space. When the team called up Jonathan Gruden this week, its cap space shrunk to just over $18,000.

The team couldn’t afford to add another player, even at $15 per hour.

The problems are getting worse, not better. Hopes that the situation with the Penguins’ bottom-six would course-correct should be doused by now.

The cascading results are putting the Penguins’ top players on the wrong side of the puck. It also adds a few more hard miles on the scorers, instead of less-taxing minutes in the offensive zone.

Where is Hextall?

I also think coach Mike Sullivan’s anger on Wednesday was stoked by frustration at the lineup he’s been running out on the ice. After elevating Teddy Blueger to third-line center and sliding Jeff Carter to the right wing, Sullivan has officially tried everything possible.

And nothing has worked.

Many GMs also hold mid-season press conferences.

Question No. 1 would be, “Ron, how do you assess the bottom-six forwards, and do you feel you have to add?”

As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted on a recent 32 Thoughts podcast, “Ron Hextall absolutely hates trade rumors.” Most GMs do, except the ones that make them work for them instead of against them.

The attendance at PPG Paints Arena has not been great this season. Significant no-shows, if not unsold tickets, have become obvious both on TV and in person. Penguins fans have lost some enthusiasm.

Where is Hextall?

I also wonder if some of the players are losing a little enthusiasm. Bad performances have been too common. The struggles, the lackluster efforts, and the malaise have become commonplace.

Hextall is the one person in a position to begin fixing the team he built, albeit with the best of intentions. He didn’t necessarily make big mistakes, except re-signing Kapanen, but not every decision will work out. A GM must adjust.

The Penguins are in a playoff position in part because of their 15-3-2 run beginning in November, and in part because the young Sabres spent the first half of the season getting their footing and the New York Islanders are a flawed team capable of stellar play and awful games within the same week.

Pittsburgh Penguins Urgency?

After the Ottawa Senators beat the Penguins Wednesday night, Brady Tkachuk said Ottawa would treat the remaining games against the Penguins as “do-or-die.”

Ottawa trails the Penguins by eight points for a playoff spot. Such desperation in January is admirable, if not enviable.

Could you imagine any of the Penguins proclaiming the upcoming games against their Metro rivals in the top three to be do-or-die?

No, that level of urgency has not existed in this Penguins locker room this season. Actions speak louder than words.

Perhaps the worst part of being an established NHLer in your 30s is having enough perspective to know the sun will still rise tomorrow, regardless of last night’s results.

And perhaps that is also part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ problem. 

A team built to win now isn’t winning. A 22-15-7 record means they have lost as many games as they’ve won.

Where is Hextall?

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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DoomsdayIsHere
DoomsdayIsHere
8 days ago

Finally a straight forward urgent truthful article placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of who is responsible for this raging dumpster fire.
There is NO urgency and the malaise is like a rising stench coming from this team.
These coaches and players need to fear the Reaper GM.
Hack-stall needs to get off his ASS and get busy and be creative
with his limited choices and decisions.

Dan N
Dan N
8 days ago

Agreed…but realistically who do they move that will make a difference? Rust..maybe..Guentzel Syd would pout…Zucker…best player on the team right now…Rakell…second best player….Malkin Letang…Nope…Jarry ? Might be your best trade piece but they have crap behind him…Trade the Number one…why not b?Just get even older…

Fredrick
Fredrick
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan N

To be honest we do have some good prospects (but Hextall needs to give to get). Kapanen may be tradable due to his speed, youth, and history of having some success in the league.

Carter is a lost cause. We are stuck with him. Dumo has been playing better and may have some value. Someone like Rust definitely could be used to land a bigger talent. I think Meier should be our top priority. He can drive play. He’s young and will be a talent for years.

Chris
Chris
8 days ago
Reply to  Fredrick

pipe dream…those days of getting the top players are over because there is nothing left in the futures bin to trade for them.

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Dan N

Aw come on Dan everyone in Yinzerville knows we can move Dumoulin and Carter and Kapanen to Edmonton for McDavid and they will retain 50% of his contract.

Why hasn’t Hextall pulled the trigger on this trade yet?

Ethan
7 days ago
Reply to  Kris

No seems a bit persnickety of you but Dumo for Domi has a nice ring to it. Yeah you would need to splash in some sweeteners and Mario and father Ty might need to have a powwow but just imagine having a couple mill in breathing room

Fredrick
Fredrick
8 days ago

Thank you for writing this Dan! It is true! A move has been needed for quite some time with this team. One has to wonder if Sullivan has been talking to Hextall to get this team some help.

Mike
Mike
8 days ago

He’s come to the realization that the problems he created with the Carter/Kapanen signings are simply unfixable. He’s figuring out how to be a seller at the deadline.

Zach
Zach
8 days ago

This has been years in the making, the former GM of The Penguins, completely purged the Penguins draft stock and minor league system to win. That comes back to haunt you, and it’s haunting the Penguins now. A time when they could use a deep prospect pool to dip into, they don’t because Jim Rutherford neglected it. The minor league system being the way it is, that’s all Rutherford and no one else. As far as Hextall goes, he’s backed himself into a corner with the Carter and Kapanen contracts. He will have to do something, or he’ll probably be… Read more »

Staci
Staci
8 days ago
Reply to  Zach

Finally, it isn’t all on Hextall. It stems fro Rutherford trading away the farm for “rental players” who did absolutely nothing to advance our hopes of a Stanley Cup.

We are stuck with no prospects or a chance to acquire a Cup . Face reality and start the rebuild now so we don’t end up like Chicago.

Zach
Zach
8 days ago
Reply to  Staci

People seem to place all this blame on Hextall and while he did get Rickard Rakell, who has been really solid for The Penguins, the Jeff Carter and Kasperi Kapanen contracts are really haunting The Penguins now, because that money could have been used elsewhere. Jim Rutherford gets no pass in this, he is absolutely guilty as anyone because as I said trading away draft picks and prospects, continuously, comes back to bite you. What really hurts is if you look back at some of the 1st rd picks The Penguins traded during his years and you look at some… Read more »

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Zach

Good review. Missed a piece though. Have you watched the Wild at all. The goalie playing right now was our prospect who also went in the Brassard deal. 24 year old Philip Gustavsson, making $787,500 has an 11-6-1 record with a 2.16 GAA and a .926 save percent. How good would he look next to Jarry (and carrying team right now with Jarry injury) over ECHL DeSmith?

BBBob
BBBob
7 days ago
Reply to  Zach

All of this is great in hindsight, but a lot of Rutherford’s moves were lauded at the time he made them (especially the Brassard trade bc he worked his magic in a three team trade up against the cap). You forgot the 2nd round pick they got back in the Reaves trade. They essentially traded down 20 spots in the draft and got Sundqvist for Reaves. Drafting isn’t an exact science and unfortunately they missed with that 2nd round pick. Eventually the Pens have to pay the piper for being so good for so long. I completely agree on the… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
8 days ago
Reply to  Staci

it is to late now. We brought back the band as so many wanted.

Zach
Zach
7 days ago

The problem hasn’t been the top 6: Crosby, Malkin, Zucker, Rakell those guys have held up their play.

The problem is the Carter and Kapanen contracts. Those guys have not lived up to the money they are earning with their play. That’s over a combined 6 million per year, that could have been used elsewhere.

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Staci

Yep. The only way out of this cap hell is trading first round picks.

The Binker
The Binker
8 days ago

I was shocked when Mario hired an ex-Flyers flunky to be his general manager. There were many better candidates available. Two years later, I’m still in shock if not vindicated. Horrible personnel decision that will haunt this franchise for years.

knobman
knobman
7 days ago
Reply to  The Binker

Because JR had to sign an extension after he said he was only staying on for a few years, we lost out on all of his assistant GMs that left to become better than Hextall.

Nathan
Nathan
8 days ago

He is not going to make any moves of desperation — and should not. He has no cap to work with, and not much in the way of personnel to work with.

Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
8 days ago
Reply to  Nathan

After missing playoffs Hextall will have many options in the unemployment line. If the core is in fact finished which jury still out maybe they squeeze into playoffs and make a minor move, either way they need to see who to keep in the off season so they can start to rebuild with younger talent. If no playoffs they should be able sell to get prospects and maybe a solid goaltender which they don’t have now.Time will tell if the oldest team in the NHL can compete so far i see them struggling every night.

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Chase Cranson

Dude, do you understand NHL contracts? Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Rust, Rakell, Carter, Letang and Petry all have no move clauses. Kapanen, McGinn, Pettersson, Rutta, Joseph, Ruhwedel, Friedman, Desmith all have at least one more year on contracts. You might find a taker for Pettersson but what does that net you. Only players coming off contracts after this season: Zucker, Blueger, Heinen, Gruden, O’Connor, Dumoulin, Smith Jarry, Archibald, Poehling. The bed was made for the big 3 to keep trying. Hanging on to draft picks for the next two years is not going to net someone who can come in and… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
8 days ago
Reply to  Nathan

It is his job to figure it out!!!

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
8 days ago

He is in a very difficult position-he didn’t help himself with some of the signings and off-season moves made. Combine that with the limited options teams have league wide, minus a few teams. The buyer has a big advantage this year and will seem to have multiple offers to choose from. Thinking about it, the Pens will have to be crafty as they will be last min Christmas eve shoppers once again.

Rob S.
Rob S.
8 days ago

Its not a complete lost cause but he definitely needs to add or subtract someone to jump start this team and get them over the hump.

Realistically he was hired to keep draft picks and just keep the team afloat as best he could while they prepare for life after sid and geno. Their goal was never to win a cup but to get in and have a chance.

He isn’t over reacting like some fans and media, because that is his job. It isn’t to freak out and trade all his players because he created a mediocre team.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
8 days ago
Reply to  Rob S.

His job is to try and make this team better every day!

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Rob S.

I keep hearing about this “life after Sid and Geno”. Based on the Letang and Rakell/Rust contracts, that appears to be five more years after this one. Life after Sid and Geno does not appear will begin until the 2028-2029 season. So why the hell are we hanging on to draft picks for the next two seasons with five plus more years of the holy trinity?

Chris
Chris
8 days ago

Improving this team would require parting ways with a major players like Rust, Dumolin, Carter, even POJ…guys that probably have more value outside of this organization than inside of it at this point.

And conceding that to make the playoffs and accomplish anything at all youre going to have to give guys like Smith, O’Conner and Gruden regular roles and see what happens.

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Ha. Guys like O’Connor and Gruden have gotten regular roles the last few games and the team looks like shit. For the 1,000 time: There is no Rust, Guentzel, Sheary, Kuhackel, Murray in Wilkes Barre to save the day.

There is no conspiracy by Sullivan to NOT play wilkes barre guys just because he didn’t coach them in Wilkes Barre. Those players are JUST NOT ANY GOOD.

Ethan
7 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Dude one of those guys is clearly not like the others. Get over the POJ thing already. He is young and affordable with a positive upside value still yet to be determined

Steve Malik
Steve Malik
8 days ago

GM RH being passive just like he was in Phila…
Kapenen signing ?
Carter extension, who cares if your buddies,, he stinks !!!

Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
8 days ago

Go Pens

EddieT1024
EddieT1024
8 days ago

This team reminds me of the years when the players were trying to get the coach fired. The old Penguin country club has re-opened its locker room. The utter lack of urgency is sickening considering the payroll. I am not interested in perspective but only in results. The players are paid so well that we should see maximum effort in every minute of every game. I am not interested in legacies or HOF credentials. As far as I am concerned, no one-NO ONE-is untouchable. These guys need to start playing hard or don’t let the door hit them on the… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
8 days ago
Reply to  EddieT1024

Really I don’t care about Sids feeling or anyone elses. They are being paid to do a job so do it or work their balls off at practice. Make a few moves because this team doesn’t even show that it cares. Trade Rust for a couple young players and a draft pick. Same goes for anyone you can trade until people see that they care.

Donny D
Donny D
8 days ago

I can’t believe that there’s a single GM who wouldn’t want Sid at his contract, or Geno, Letang, Rakell, Zuck, Gentzy, or Jarry at theirs. Maybe not in three years, but for right now they are all outperforming their salaries. Truth on Carts, Kap, and Petry, but everyone else basically holding their end of the bargain. And Line 4 when healthy was buzzing (at great value also). But building a team isn’t just about individual value, it is being COMPLETE, and that’s what they are missing. Net front presence (not a Goon) on offense, and a net front presence (not… Read more »

Kris
Kris
7 days ago
Reply to  Donny D

Come on seriously? The only teams with cap space to take on this large contracts are the teams building for the future. What the hell is Arizona and Chicago going to do with Geno or Letang.

Please stop the nonsense. If (BIG IF) and when he can find a partner, Hextall will make a trade.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
8 days ago

My two biggest sports failures have been Hextall and Burkie. My eyes lit up when tnhey joined the Pens. However they have done very little. They both should really be replaced or this isn’t going to end well at all.

Kris
Kris
7 days ago

Yep let’s trade everybody that stinks for the best all-stars. We won two cups doing it JR’s way so it works every season does it not? Wait, it doesn’t? What?

William Maloni
William Maloni
8 days ago

Heard he was hiding with Bob Nuttin and Travis Williams.

Krrr
Krrr
7 days ago

I think the problem lies with the expenditures for King Ghidorah.
Hextall needs to order a strike by Mothra or Godzilla.

ric jefferies
ric jefferies
7 days ago

Hextall was left minding the warehouse when the Pens were sold to Fenway Sports the 600 lb gorilla of the sports world. They were tucked away and stored in their warehouse for perhaps a later date, future project and the key to the door was tossed to Hextall to keep an eye on the “inventory” (team and business) “but don’t “F” it up”. Paralyzed by fear of doing just that he watches, shuffles stuff around sweeps the warehouse now and then. He too is/was a victim of the transaction responsibility without real autonomy (maybe) Pro sports is a tough gig;… Read more »

Kris
Kris
7 days ago

What a crock. You do realize that since the Petry trade on July 16th a total of 20, YES THAT IS RIGHT 20 total trades have happened in the entire NHL. And the MAJOR DEAL in season for the year? Ryan freaking Reaves. Ron Hextall is not Jim Rutherford so get over it. The guy is not going to make his trades in the media. You have zero clue if the Penguins are talking to other teams and its quite apparent that NOBODY is making trades right now. I’m sure he and management are looking CONSTANTLY at how and what… Read more »

Kris
Kris
7 days ago

What’s the story with Poulin? Is he ever coming back?

Hotwingscliff
Hotwingscliff
7 days ago

Make a blockbuster move cling on

Rob S.
Rob S.
7 days ago

He is doing what he is paid to do. I don’t think anyone expects the penguins to be a favorite to win the cup every year. That would be foolish. Their stars are winding down their careers and now its Hextall’s job to restock the prospects as best he can while still putting a sellable product on the ice. Honestly the best thing he can do right now is trade some of their better players for more prospects and draft picks. I am talking Rust, Guentzel, Zucker, etc. Its possible he could bring in players that could maybe help the… Read more »

DaGama
DaGama
7 days ago

We’ll probably see only minor roster adjustments this season. If attendance keeps slipping in 2023-24 then management will find a way to make some significant moves.

Last edited 7 days ago by DaGama
Uros
Uros
7 days ago

Relax, everything is under control. It’s OK to vent some frustration brought on by a bad string of results, but let me assure you there’s absolutely no discusson about making the playoffs. Whether this team will be eliminated quickly or make a run, remains to be seen. But the teams that make the playoffs are so close that there’s no shame if you lose, even in the first round. However, let me repeat, talking about whether this team will make the playoffs is ridiculous. No trade or anything else is required, just some patience, and fortunately, those that should be,… Read more »