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Assessing the pros and cons of some Penguins’ general manager targets

Taking in the good and the bad of some of the candidates interviewing for jobs in Pittsburgh

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2021 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Vitor Munhoz/NHLI via Getty Images

With the Penguins reportedly seeking to have new leadership in hockey operations worked out by the end of the month ahead of what will be a busy off-season, business is about to pick up on the front to add a new general manager and hockey operations president in Pittsburgh.

Pierre LeBrun from The Athletic had a good update yesterday, reporting that about a dozen candidates interviewed via Zoom. Some are known, but the media doesn’t purport to have a full listing of everyone in the mix. Currently the team is already in the process of cutting down the list for an upcoming second round in-person interviews. LeBrun confirmed seven names of those who interviewed and had a couple of unconfirmed possibilities to round it out.

Based on LeBrun’s list and other hot item names, let’s go over some pluses and weaknesses.

Marc Bergevin (senior advisor to the GM, Los Angeles Kings)

Pros: Lots of experience. After a 20 year NHL playing career, Bergevin has been in various management roles (one season NHL assistant coach, two years Director of Player Personnel, one season assistant GM, almost 10 straight years of being Montreal’s GM) over the last 15 years. He’s also a very close, long-time friend of Mario Lemieux, and if FSG wanted to improve relations with Lemieux, bringing Bergevin into the mix would surely be a nice side effect.

Cons: Various highs and lows for his job performance in Montreal doesn’t make for an exciting hire, considering he never built much of a winner and perhaps only Carey Price kept him looking decent. Took some heat for the controversial first round draft pick of Logan Mailloux in 2021.

Best fit: At this point, the Team President gig looks like a better match, especially if the Penguins go with someone young and/or inexperienced for GM. Bergevin has contacts built up and knows enough to help guide a new person. Do you want him calling the shots and executing his vision? Probably not. Could Bergevin add value as a go-between that presents messages and acts as a conduit from ownership to management to fans? Seems feasible, at least in theory.

Eric Tulsky (assistant general manager, Carolina Hurricanes)

Pros: Has been in the NHL for eight seasons, leading Carolina’s data and pro scouting staff, two strong areas on that club. Obviously extremely intelligent from his PH. D. in chemistry to famously writing blogs on the internet in the 2010’s focusing on analytical areas and applying data towards successfully evaluating hockey.

Cons: True front office/hockey operations experience is limited to the last few seasons, no history as a full GM. May or may not command respect of peers at that level, given difference in background. Could be a “low floor, very high ceiling” type of an unpredictable experiment.

Best fit: GM job, if the Pens want to take a plunge and risk with a first-timer. For best results, Tulsky probably should paired with an experienced team president who can lean on relationships and inter-personal dealings with the leaders of other NHL teams.

Peter Chiarelli (Vice President of Hockey Operations, St. Louis Blues)

Pros: Has a Stanley Cup on his resume as a general manager, and has been around for a long time.

Cons: Major, major red flags with not only poor results under his management, but also failing to realize/accept his inputs helped cause those poor results.

Best fit: Interview fodder to get a scope of what a “hockey man” looks like.

Jason Karmanos (Associate General Manager, Buffalo Sabres)

Pros: With the Penguins recently from 2014-20 in assistant GM role. Has almost 23 years of front office experience in Carolina, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, but isn’t old at 48.

Cons: Left Pittsburgh in strange, surprising way (a few months prior to mentor Jim Rutherford leaving himself), which might not be as relevant with David Morehouse gone and FSG in. No full NHL GM experience.

Best fit: GM.

Dan MacKinnon (senior vice president, assistant GM, New Jersey Devils)

Pros: Has team and city familiarity after working with Pens from 2007-16, a former underling of Ray Shero and then jumping over to the Devils under Tom Fitzgerald (another Penguin/Shero alum). From scouting to player personnel and now management, MacKinnon has been in NHL front offices since 2000 and worn a lot of different hats in three different organizations.

Cons: Lack of full time NHL GM experience

Best fit: GM.

Kate Madigan (assistant general manager, New Jersey Devils)

Pros: Has four years experience in New Jersey, rising through the ranks as a director of scouting then directing hockey operations and one season of being an assistant GM. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald cited Madigan’s “diligence, work ethic, attention to detail, ability to communicate with all staff, strategy and vision” as reasons she has excelled in becoming the sixth woman to reach NHL AGM level.

Cons: At 30 years old, Madigan would be very young in the NHL world for a major leadership position (though not unprecedented with Kyle Dubas taking over Toronto at 29 a few years ago, and Kyle Davidson getting the Chicago job at age 33 as the league skews younger). Then again, age might not be seen a negative to this ownership group, but at this point in time she’s one of the candidates on the low end of NHL time of service.

Best fit: Could see her going the Team President path, but also management in the years to come could be a real possibility.

Meghan Duggan (director of player development, New Jersey Devils)

Pros: Extremely decorated as a player, Duggan has been with the Devils for the last two seasons and already been promoted once, cited for her expertise in getting a bump up to directing NJ’s player development program for this season.

Cons: Has only two years of NHL experience, might be more of a work in progress than viable department leader at this point. Then again, from the note above, it more depends on how close FSG thinks Duggan could be to that mattering more than how long she’s been in NHL management circles.

Best fit: Though certainly a candidate, at this point a role in hockey operations or player development might fit best at this moment.

Mathieu Darche (director of hockey operations, Tampa Bay Lightning)

Pros: Has been in Tampa since 2019, a witness to Steve Yzerman and Julien BriseBois assembling championship level teams and draft/develop young players into key roles and learn the ropes in what has been an excellent front office.

Cons: Only four years of front office experience, and none directly on the day-to-day team operating type of management. Applying other’s strategies in a different situation may or may not correlate that well to a new and different team.

Best fit: Looks to be on more of the Team President career path than general manager at this point, but perhaps has ability and ambition to be GM.

Jason Botterill (associate general manager, Seattle Kraken)

Pros: Familiarity with Mike Sullivan and the core players having been on staff in Pittsburgh from 2007-17. Worked under some great GM’s like Ron Francis, Jim Rutherford and Ray Shero. Has experience being full GM in the stressful and ill-fate time in Buffalo. Good mix of not being a “dinosaur” but also having strong grasp on salary cap nuances and plenty of management-level years under his belt.

Cons: His Buffalo days open speculation on various talent acquisition strategies that didn’t pan out immediately (but some decisions have looked better with time).

Best fit: GM would work, also fits as a Team President type to steer and guide a lesser experienced GM if the Pens hire from that pool.

Brad Treliving (current lame duck general manager, Calgary Flames)

Pros: A wealth of experience in the current NHL climate, having been an AGM in Arizona from 2007-14 and then the full GM in Calgary for nine seasons from 2014-2023.

Cons: Reportedly, Calgary will not allow him to interview while under his contract that lasts through June. Also isn’t staying on with the Flames due to performance that could be characterized in range from “ok at times” to “nothing special”.

Best fit: Probably none immediately, considering employment status (barring a change of position by his current bosses to free him up). The positions in Pittsburgh will be filled unless he joins later as a consultant, advisor or other part of the broader hockey ops team.

While mainly Bergevin and Chiarelli have stolen the media headlines as the highest profile names involved in the process so far, a common theme of many interviewees is that by and large this is not a group of “retreads” but includes a lot of rising stars and younger candidates seeking a first GM job or move up the ladder.

From ownership statements, the Pens want two people to head the division: a Team President to oversee operations and the GM to run the day-to-day tasks. They have been open to setups that might stray from the traditional single point of emphasis (typically the GM) and into more of a collaborative undertaking. Usually though, a team needs one person to have a vision and plan and have the ability to get the rest of the staff working in the direction that they want to go.

Being as this is FSG’s first stab at crafting their own hockey leadership group, it will require some guesswork with no history to draw on for what direction they might decide to go, but this list of candidates starts to shape up into some intriguing clues. FSG shocked the world in their legendary 2001 hiring of a little-known and lightly-experienced GM in Theo Epstein and it paid huge dividends, so we can’t rule out a “big swing” (pardon the pun) to a surprising candidate that they feel has a brighter future meaning more than previous accomplishments.

Pensburgh best bets of known rumored candidates (in alphabetical order)

Team President: Bergevin, Botterill, Darche, Madigan
GM: Botterill, MacKinnon, Tulsky

FSG should be able to mix and match some of the names above to give the Pens’ new leadership what could be an exciting mix of (hopefully) complimentary strengths. They can join experience in one role to a youthful approach in the other, ideally bringing together the “best of both worlds” with solid stat-based analysis to go with people with established and necessary relationship-based attributes.

It’s impossible to say without being in the interviews and having access to information that no one outside of the process has, but it would probably be a positive and pretty easy sell to feel good about the future if they chose just about any combination from the two lists above.

Or, they could shock the sports world again and go off page and hire someone not even named in the initial flurry of first candidates. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the national media types (LeBrun, Frank Seravalli, etc) have a list comprised completely of people associated with the NHL. They have also stated clearly that there are other unnammed candidates, which could lead to folks outside of hockey at the moment (possibly such as Cam Lawrence) that are under just as much consideration for jobs with the Pens as people who have worked in NHL front offices for the last 20 years.

The path ahead is wide open and up to which people can best present a vision and plan to get the Penguins back on track.