Ron Hextall is known as a quiet personality who keeps a lot of professional information close to the vest, but for the most part when he does talk in public, he’s been a straight shooter. He’s said things like his priority was to keep his first round pick, and the team kept his first round pick. He has wanted the organization to get bigger and slowly but surely the impact to add size through the draft and free agency is starting to trickle in. Hextall said his priority was re-signing Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, an the Pens did just that.
So while Hextall will probably never have the reputation or be as free-wheeling as his media darling predecessor who was never shy on giving quotes, it does stand to reason that when Hextall talks that he is worth listening to as far as the goals and direction that he is intending to take his team.
With that in mind, here’s some highlights of his latest media talk on Friday, or just the whole talk if you so please.
Want to hear from GM Ron Hextall following day two of training camp?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 23, 2022
We’ve got ya covered ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/SgSiRT6YxJ
Team hunger and mindset
Ron Hextall: "I'm really excited about where we are right now as a team. The feeling around the room, there's a lot of hunger. There's going to be some good fights for jobs. I like where we're at."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) September 23, 2022
The cynical eye might look at the Pens and say that they are too old, or not as dynamic or strong on paper as they were a few years ago. That outlook might ultimately prove to be correct, considering it’s a fact that the Penguins are on track to have one of the NHL’s oldest rosters this season (if not THE oldest) and on paper they don’t stand out compared to some other rosters.
There has been no shortage of talk about some fire and desire though, and good old fashioned hunger. At the start of most seasons, teams are eager and quick to turn the page on the prior year and move onto the next challenge. The Pens’ players have been more open to talk about last season’s crushing OT Game 7 loss, and are seeming to put this to a positive use for this next season. In September, who knows how that might pay off way down the road, but there is very much a sense of what Sidney Crosby encapsulated.
Sidney Crosby said the Penguins have a sour taste in their mouths after how last season ended: "I just want to win."— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) September 23, 2022
Said it's not about a "Cinderella story." It's about winning hockey games. #Pens
Crosby is always driven to win, but after seeing the Stanley Cup up close and personal at his good buddy Nathan MacKinnon’s party, his competitive spirit looks stronger than ever.
Malkin has looked sharp in the early portions of camp, and is outwardly focused to prove he is “still a good player” as he put it earlier in the week. It seems his protracted contract negotiation — where he was not a total priority and had to bow to low contract — has fueled him in a positive way to stoke his fire.
Letang is always a player in phenomenal shape and that has carried over this year. From Hextall’s quote above, he’s probably not surprised but still impressed when Letang completed an extra conditioning skate in an impressive way on Thursday.
The best players on the team are all healthy, look extremely motivated and are driven to accomplish more. This is a great place for the team to be, and it’s bound to trickle down the roster and set the tone for Pittsburgh this season.
Jarry contract update
Hextall on Jarry contract: “We’ve been talking to Jars, so we’ll see where it goes. There’s no real urgency there, I think, from either side. But we’ll continue talking, try to get something done. I don’t anticipate talking when the season starts, but who knows?"— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) September 23, 2022
Tristan Jarry will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Hextall buys himself some wiggle room that maybe negotiations will stop when the season starts, but then again maybe not.
As we wrote last summer, the decision for Jarry doesn’t really revolve around money. Given the NHL goalie salary climate, Jarry’s next deal is likely in the range of $5.5 million per year, give or take a little bit. But Jarry will be in a position to command at least a five year deal — and possibly more — given recent goalie free agent contracts signed. Do the Pens want to make that commitment? Time will tell.
Neither side seems that urgent, and both can benefit from seeing how this season goes and then finding an appropriate answer to their questions.
When asked if players like Ty Smith and Drew O'Connor are at a disadvantage because they are exempt from waivers, Hextall replied, "We want to put the best team on the ice that we can on opening night. So if they're part of it, we're going to try to find a way."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) September 23, 2022
Having nine NHL caliber defensemen is a blessing, but also could require some very difficult decisions at the end of training camp. If there are no injuries, it’s likely two players will have to be sent away. This September will be very crucial for players like Ty Smith, Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Mark Friedman, who all have an opportunity but at some point the logjam will have to give in some way.
The developing story of camp will be some of the fringe decisions about how to become salary cap compliant, with the threat of injury always lingering to help make financial decisions easier (but on ice play more difficult).
The Pens’ decision makers have a few more weeks of seeing the pre-season and training camp performances to determine just how they want to put the finishing touches on the roster to go into the season.