Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall talked to the media today after waiving forward Kasperi Kapanen. The forward has been on the trade block and was reportedly offered to all NHL teams for a trade, but apparently no trade was found considering Kapanen’s second poor season in a row, as well as a relatively hefty $3.2 million contract for next season. Tomorrow we’ll find out officially if Kapanen clears waivers or if another team claims him. According to the website CapFriendly, only 10 NHL clubs have the currently available space to add his contract outright, and since no trade could be found that could have sent a contract back to Pittsburgh, the odds of a claim look fairly unlikely.
For starters, it’s a good move for Hextall to be more transparent and communicate more. That might be out of his personal preference for how to operate, but the natives are restless after possibly the first major in-arena chant in franchise history for the removal of the GM in last night’s game. A lot of that has to do with the confusion of being left in the dark. No one really knows what Hextall’s plans and vision is, aside from the obvious to hope to win games now and build up the prospect system for later. For better or worse, the legend of the “plan is in my head” story of Hextall supposedly not being able to translate his vision to a written format for ownership is growing in legend, and not for good reason.
That stuff might fly when the team is in the top half of the division, as they have been for most of Hextall’s two year stint in Pittsburgh. But when the team sits 10th in the conference as they currently do with a 8-12-4 record since Christmas? Secrecy and the perception of a buttoned up, closed door type of management style is not going to cut it.
Let’s break down the unabridged seven and a half minute talk.
The first two questions, Hextall was defensive. He was asked why Kapanen was signed to a two-year contract after struggling and referenced that Kapanen played and produced well in 2020-21 and did acknowledge that while 2021-22 was a down year for him, the team thought he would bounce back. He added, “unfortunately, it hasn’t worked here. Tough decisions have to be made along the way and that’s what this was with Kappy.”
When asked if some of this season’s performances have caused the team to question their player evaluations, Hextall bristled and responded that teams look on a deeper level as they build than might be apparent to make sure they have items like left and right shot centers and enough PKers to fill roles.
The third question led to this quote:
Ron Hextall: "Our intent is to continue to try to make this team better, this year and years beyond this year. We want to stay competitive. We made that commitment last summer with our core. Those guys have played well."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) February 24, 2023
He followed up by saying: “the hardest part about our team right now is probably the volatility. It’s a tough one, quite frankly, to put a finger on it” due to the hot and cold streaks this season.
Hextall was quick to be bullish about the possibility of still making the playoffs this season.
Hextall: "I do believe we can make the playoffs, yes. The prices are high [for trades], they always are this time of the year. Sometimes they come down. We will continue to monitor and try to make our team better."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 24, 2023
When asked about the notorious chants from last night, it certainly sounded like Hextall was ready and had an answer prepared for it.
Hextall continued: ...We work in the public eye and the fans pay good money to come to the rink. They certainly have the right to chant and say whatever they choose. It's not going to affect anything I do or don't do. Criticism is part of the business. You have to deal with it."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 24, 2023
Hextall then acknowledged the cap situation to get Jan Rutta off injured reserve was a factor in waiving Kapanen. It’s probably worth noting that if no team claims Kapanen, that would not clear up enough space to activate Rutta.
While Hextall said he wants to improve the team, as expected and from his previous line of thinking, don’t expect that to include moving major assets for a rental player.
The Penguins GM added that they are not looking to spend big assets on rentals. "So if we're going to spend a big asset, it's going to help us this year and years to come. That decision has been made."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) February 24, 2023
Hextall was asked if the Kapanen move might mean a minor leaguer would be recalled, however the GM said he believed the team would still be “jammed up” regarding the salary cap and it didn’t sound like he anticipated making any call ups from Wilkes-Barre in the immediate future. He did later mention that Valtteri Puustinen, Alex Nylander, Filip Hallander and the currently injured Jonathan Gruden are all young players that they are keeping an eye on and pleased with their seasons in Wilkes.
When asked about Jeff Carter, Hextall first started by talking about the lower two forward lines as a whole.
Hextall: "You look at our bottom six, for some reason pieces haven't fit... We just try to give the coaches the options we can give them. We are in a tight cap situation, which we're trying to rectify here."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 24, 2023
And then focused on the veteran center with the following
More Hextall on Carter: "There's times where he could play better than he's played. But he's a big face-off guy for us, he's a penalty kill for us and he fills a role."— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) February 24, 2023
Overall, nothing revealed could be considered earth-shattering or much by way of information to signal any drastic changes.
The most major news wasn’t any Hextall quote, but the decision to send Kapanen away from the roster in the first place and not frequent recent healthy scratch Danton Heinen or youngster Drew O’Connor, who wouldn’t have required waivers to be sent to the AHL.
With one week left until the March 3rd NHL trade deadline, Hextall made the first move to help improve the bottom six forward group with hopes of addition by subtracting of his biggest summer signing for that area. We’ll see how transparent or talkative he is in the days to come and how many more dominoes might be set to fall in order to change things up and improve the team.