When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Ron Hextall a couple of years ago the perception put out by ownership was that they grew tired of his patience. It was not necessarily that he did a bad job, just that he did not do the type of job the Flyers wanted. They said they wanted a general manager that had “a bias for action.”
Meaning, somebody that was going to make a lot of moves.
That was not Hextall’s method.
Instead of constantly swinging for the fences and making a bunch of moves for the sake of making moves, he was happy to be patient, build with a long-term view in mind, and focus more on making the right moves.
It is a very different approach from what we are used to here in Pittsburgh after the Jim Rutherford era.
Rutherford loved whatever microphone was in front of his face and was not shy about sharing his thoughts or what he wanted to do. Hextall’s front office seems to be tight as a drum, while he keeps everything close to the vest.
Rutherford made moves without seeming to have much of a plan. Hextall has been patient and methodical. He has made two trades — acquiring Jeff Carter at the trade deadline, and sending Jared McCann to Toronto to avoid the expansion draft.
His early free agent signings have been Brock McGinn, Danton Heinen, and Michael Chaput. Low-risk, depth signings that do not have cap-busting term of salary cap numbers attatched to them.
He has not yet overreacted to the goalie situation and made a kneejerk reaction move or paid too much to a veteran that may or may not be the answer.
What this means for the season remains to be seen.
It is still early August and there are two months before the puck drops on the start of the regular season. A lot can change between now and then. But as it stands right now the Penguins look to be ready to roll with a similar roster, barring some unforeseen blockbuster or trade to significantly alter that.
The only real changes so far have been to replace Brandon Tanev and McCann with McGinn and Heinen, and with either Pierre-Olivier Joseph or Mark Friedman replacing Cody Ceci. Those are probably not upgrades, and are at best lateral moves.
To make a real upgrade to the roster it is going to take some real creativity to shed a contract and create some space, or utilize the long-term injured list with Evgeni Malkin if we assume he is going to miss a significant portion of the season.
Part of the inactivity so far is almost certainly Hextall’s preferred method of team building. He has a pretty extensive track record from Philadelphia of being patient. But it is also almost certainly the reality of the Penguins’ situation.
If we are being honest here Rutherford did not leave the greatest situation behind when he left. The salary cap situation is not particularly good, and it is not because of the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang trio. It is because of contracts like Mike Matheson, Jason Zucker (and I hate saying that because I loved the trade and I still like Zucker as a player), and Brandon Tanev before he was selected by Seattle in the expansion draft.
The farm system had also been depleted through past trades (the initial trades and the trades made to correct those initial trades) while the lack of draft picks over the years made it nearly impossible to replenish it. The farm system and draft pick part is not really a criticism of Rutherford. The Penguins were (and still are) in a win-now mode and should not have hesitated to trade any draft pick or prospect if they thought it could get them closer to a Stanley Cup. It is the only way to operate given the situation and the core of the team. You only get Hall of Fame players every so often and you only have them play for your team for so long. When you have those players you owe it to them, the team, the fans, and everybody to do everything you can to win. The Penguins did that.
The problem comes into some of the contracts. Overpay here. Overpay there. It all adds up. It has all made it extremely difficult for the next general manager to do much to improve the roster. Combine that with a general manager that has patient approach to begin with, and you have the makings of an extremely quiet offseason.
That may not be the worst thing, either. Because this Penguins team did not really need sweeping changes. It won its division (arguably the toughest division in the league) and lost a goaltending battle. Everybody acknowledges that the biggest issue against the New York Islanders was losing the goaltending matchup. With slightly better play in net, or slightly less play from Ilya Sorokin, the Penguins are playing in the Second Round and we are not talking much about the offseason or what is needed.
It is actually kinda funny to think about what this offseason would have looked like with Rutherford in charge. It probably would not have been as quiet or patient as this offseason has been so far.