Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall is known for two things: Being extremely patient, and building a wall around any information getting out of his offices about his plans for his team. He seems to hate dealing with the media, doesn’t like talking, doesn’t tip his hand, and doesn’t like to make knee-jerk reaction moves. He is the antithesis of the Penguins’ previous general manager in almost every possible way. You only need to look at his transaction history from Philadelphia (and now Pittsburgh) and how rarely you actually hear him speak (or read quotes from him) to know how true all of that is.
All of that is why I am not sure what to believe when it comes to reports on the Penguins’ offseason, whether it be re-signing Evgeni Malkin and/or Kris Letang, or their approach to building the roster. You just don’t know. Of the moves he has made since joining the Penguins the only one that had even a whisper of a rumor preceding it or predicting it was this year’s Rickard Rakell trade.
The Jeff Carter trade, the Jeff Carter extension, any of the free agent signings from this past summer. Even the expansion draft had us in the dark for a while. They all came out of nowhere. So it is difficult to really know for sure what this offseason is going to look like, and I have a hard time fully buying into the rumors and rumblings we read because it is almost certainly coming from a side that is not Ron Hextall.
All we have to go on is what we have seen from him in the past. So how much confidence does that inspire in you? The current state of the Flyers (which is not good!) is certainly something to consider. When he was fired, the criticism (both externally and from within the Flyers) was that he did not do enough. Flyers management literally said they wanted somebody that had “a bias for action” in their general manager role. In his four years there was only one free agent signing of major significance (James van Riemsdyk), and almost no significant additions via trade.
There was, however, a lot of salary dumping with the contracts of Chris Pronger, Nicklas Grossmann, Vincent Lecavalier, and Luke Schenn being dumped. Even the Hartnell-Umberger swap was something of a salary cap cutting move (Umberger’s contract had a slightly smaller cap hit and had fewer years remaining on it).
Add in the Brayden Schenn trade and there was way more subtracting than adding.
Part of that was just simply where the Flyers were in their development. Hextall was inheriting a bit of a mess with some bad contracts and needed to clean it up.
But his early time with the Penguins still points to a lot of those tendencies. There seems to be a reluctance to make long-term commitments to players or take on long-term commitments.
The free agency signing period last year was just a series cheaper one-year deals.
When Carter was initially required he had one additional year on his deal, but at a greatly reduced salary cap number. Rakell was a pending UFA with no long-term commitment.
The only longer term commitments so far have been the re-signing of Bryan Rust (at probably less money than Rust could have signed for on the open market) and the (seemingly misguided and premature) two-year extension for Carter.
Just based on nothing more than historical track record here and moves we have actually seen get made in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Hextall seems incredibly risk averse. He seems more fearful of a deal going wrong and the potential downside of a significant trade or signing than the potential reward that could come from such a deal. That might explain why Rust’s contract got done before Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang. Or why he was so quick to re-sign Carter.
For me, that paints an ominous picture for the offseason. My gut instinct here is that if the Penguins were going to re-sign Malkin or Letang it probably would have happened by now. Or at least had more progress seemingly made in talks. If no deal gets made and they both walk, that brings even more questions about what happens next. Yes, the Penguins would have more salary cap space than ever, but I would be quite skeptical that it would be fully utilized just based on the track record.
I guess what I am saying here is: More than a year and a half into his tenure, I am not fully sure I understand what Hextall’s vision and plan for the Penguins is, and based on his resume I am not sure how confident I am in whatever it is.
That makes this offseason a pretty significant moment for him (and the team). If Malkin and Letang end up walking and they do not make a couple of significant moves to replace them, what was the point of re-signing Rust? If they let them walk and do make significant free agent additions, why not just commit a little more to keeping better players, even if they are older?
Overall, my confidence level is pretty low at the moment just because it is hard to see where this thing goes. I am willing to keep an open mind. But from what I have seen so far I have a healthy dose of skepticism here.