The most important name in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ organization that the average fan probably doesn’t know - or has ever maybe even heard about - is David Beeston.
Such is life and the challenge of the Penguins being brought into the whopping $9 billion portfolio of the Fenway Sports Group. The name alone conjures up the obvious connection to the group’s ownership of the Boston Red Sox and iconic Fenway Park, but leaves little personal touch for their newest $900 million acquisition just over a year ago in the form of the Pittsburgh hockey club.
Most know of John Henry, FSG’s founder and principal owner, and perhaps even the Chariman, Tom Warner, who has made various appearances and statements.
Beeston is a co-head of Fenway Sports management is the Penguins Alternate Governor for NHL functions. He is often in Pittsburgh, attending games and the most hands on, in person high-ranking member of FSG with the Penguins.
This afternoon, following the firings of the head of hockey operation leaders Brian Burke and Ron Hextall, Beeston spoke about that and the vision of what is to come for the Penguins.
Beeston’s comments have already been generally well-received from media and fans alike, who were scouring to hear concrete plans from ownership and get a sense of what is to come.
First and foremost, that begins with the Pens conducting a search for the new person(s) to lead the hockey operations group. There have been rumblings that the team will re-invest and attempt to build out a division of hockey analytics that has recently gone mostly by the wayside, a form of “forward-thinking” and “proactive” that Beeston alluded to.
There will be a “robust” search for new leadership, with Beeston saying that no candidates have be pre-identified. The challenge for FSG and the Pens will be to find a person that can implement their plans and goals, giving the future hire(s) an extreme amount of importance at this stage of where the franchise is at.
A key word Beeston used was “ambition” followed shortly by repeated a previously on-tune message from the top that the Pens intend to win and attempt to continue to compete for championships around the core that they have in place. He stated and affirmed a commitment on the importance of Sidney Crosby now and in the future.
Mike Sullivan’s named popped up several times in his comments, from assuming responsibility to this season to also being thanked for taking on more responsibility in the transition times. Regarding Sullivan’s future, Beeston did not directly say Sullivan would return as coach, though provided clues that he will.
“We think Mike Sullivan is one of the best coaches in the NHL. He was extended last season. Once we bring in a new hockey operations leader, he or she will be responsible for evaluating the coaching staff, but we think Mike and his whole staff is terrific.”
Would FSG hire a new GM that differed in that evaluation of Sullivan? That marks a sizeable difference between the similar situation in 2014 when a Penguin GM was fired and ownership was already on board with removing then-coach Dan Bylsma, even if it was not completely affirmed today that Sullivan will remain in his current post.
There were rumors and scuttlebutt about what the Mario Lemieux-FSG relationship after the sale that left Lemieux with only a small piece of ownership. Beeston also laid out the hopes that Mario Lemieux will be involved and more active around the team, after being seldom seen this year, his first without any responsibility and the chance to do other things for the first time in so long after being the point person in Pittsburgh hockey for his entire adult life.
Kevin Acklin, the Penguins’ President of business operations also echoed those statements on the team being happy and optimistic to have more Lemieux in the future in what his somewhat owner-emeritus type of role might be in the future.
Acklin added that he spoke with Lemieux this morning, and that Mario also talked directly to ownership. "He still cares about the team, and obviously we'd love to see more of him at the arena, and that's something that we'll keep engaging with him over time."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 14, 2023
Overall, this press conference represented a step forward to get a sense of the goals and vision the organization has in mind, as well as seeing and directly hearing from those in charge of the team. Lingering fears and rumors of absentee ownership and a lack of direction can be put to rest, even if they never truly existed besides the jarring change of not having one face of the franchise off the ice not be replaced when Lemieux quietly faded out of picture after selling his stake.
FSG wants the Penguins to win, and the hockey operations staff they inherited did not deliver the results. As a result, the Burke/Hextall regime is over in Pittsburgh. The next step will be to identify and bring in new people who will be tasked with improvements.