The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins announced a new general manager they shocked the hockey world by hiring Jim Rutherford, the long-tenured Carolina Hurricanes executive who introduced himself by saying he expected to be in Pittsburgh for only about three seasons.
Three seasons later, Rutherford was raising his second Stanley Cup with the Penguins.
After he stepped down in January for unspecified personal reasons, Pittsburgh certainly felt the pressure of an encore. The Penguins are at a crossroads as a contender, as they were when Rutherford was hired.
On Tuesday, they shocked the hockey world again.
Ron Hextall hired as general manager? Not too shocking, if we’re being honest. He’s been on the radar for a few openings since the Philadelphia Flyers fired him in 2018. Perhaps the only surprise is that such a hated rival of the Penguins as a player is now running their team — although Hextall said he grew up a Penguins fan and, well, one assumes he’d like to get a measure of revenge against the franchise that fired him, too.
But Brian Burke? That was the shock. The way it came together: Co-owner Mario Lemieux suggested that David Morehouse, the team’s president and CEO, reach out to Burke as a sounding board during the team’s hiring process. Specifically, Morehouse asked him about Hextall after the first round of interviews.
“He not only gave me sage advice on Ron Hextall, he gave me sage advice going through this process,” said Morehouse.
The Penguins had considered adding a president of hockey operations along with a general manager during their search and decided to revisit the concept with Burke. He wasn’t searching for a new opportunity in the NHL. But working for Lemieux and the Penguins proved to be too alluring him for him to turn down. For the Penguins, they get the same kind of executive that they hired in Rutherford: someone with a penchant for bold moves, who also happens to have a Stanley Cup on his finger.
Oh, and now Burke finally gets Sidney Crosby on his team, too.
“If you remember back in the lottery in , I just missed on Sidney Crosby,” said Burke, whose Anaheim Ducks team earned the second overall pick and drafted Bobby Ryan. “Well, now I got Sidney Crosby.”
That he does … as well as some huge challenges. Here is what Burke and Hextall face as they take over the Penguins.