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Insider Only Latest Pens Buzz: On the Hextall/Burke Arranged Marriage & More Front-Office Upheaval to Come

Latest Pens Buzz

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One of the burning questions around the league is how the arranged marriage of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke evolves over the next year in a half. A growing sense among rival executives is things go well for a stretch but that the two are bound to eventually clash.

In the present, though, it’s important the Penguins have fresh eyes in the fold now who have much different views in style of play, personnel than how the team was previously operated. That has a chance to really benefit them.

Skill is always the way to go, but a major issue for the organization is how they overlooked the need for those glue type players, who will block shots, are hard to play against below the dots, ect. It’s such a passive, perimeter based lack of physical team top to bottom and it’s been a clear issue for a while now the front office had totally disregarded. The Montreal series should have been wakeup call but the previous management group and coach wrote it off as bad luck.

Almost every night the Penguins are the least physical team, not from flying around making pointless hits, but just from being able to use their size and strength in critical areas of the ice to impact games in a positive way.

An episode of Inside Penguins Hockey that’s been airing recently highlighted of how the type of players they target went wrong. Those in that room among the front office were acting like the team signed Taylor Hall when they decided to go ahead and sign Evan Rodriguez and Mark Jankowski. There were even some ‘great job Jim’ comments from the brass and you had to be kidding me.

Falling in love with a fringe players like Rodriguez just because he can skate and his underlying numbers on a computer show upside are over with Brian Burke at the helm. And that might not be a bad thing.

Brian Burke is a huge believer in surrounding skill with glue type players. He’s a Pat Maroon, Luke Schenn type of guy, as one NHL source said last night. There’s no question the new regime is going to immediately target some snarl, size along the edges of the roster, is the immediate thinking from those who know how Burke and Hextall are likely to operate in the present.

The mandate from ownership to the new regime is this:

‘do whatever you have to do to put this year’s team in the best position to make the playoffs, then let’s evaluate the proper route to take in the present and long-term after the season’


MORE BUZZ

— Not sure whether Ron Hextall would have been on-board with reporting to someone who has zero years of experience as a hockey executive, but broadcaster Kevin Weekes with his charisma, hockey IQ and speaking skills, made a great impression on the Penguins organization. Weekes initially interviewed for the GM position last Wednesday, but within a matter of days the thinking changed as Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access" was pushing ownership to hire Weekes for the President of Hockey Operations role, NHL sources say. Weekes getting hired came a lot closer than realized and his camp was surprised as anyone with the Burke news. The team saw great intrigue for Weekes to be the de facto long-term public figure of the hockey operations department, I’m told.


— Those in the know say Brian Burke at this stage in his life is not a fan of doing the grunt work a top executive of the organization often has to do. Everything is very new, it was only a couple days ago when the whole Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations came up between both sides, but Burke is coming on board as the face of the hockey operations department in public and as the significant influencer in the organization on the vision and blueprint moving forward.

Where as, GM Ron Hextall gets to handle all the dirty work behind the scenes in the day to day operations, which I’m told Hextall thrives on as an executive. There’s a belief it won’t bug Hextall at all that Burke is going to be the one often in the public’s eye.

Hextall is said to love the grunt work than passing it on to others under him. Hextall was criticized in Philadelphia as taking on too much himself, being guarded with his thoughts, and not letting others handle hockey level dealings those under the GM often handle. Hextall’s, while believing analytics has a place in the game (unlike Burke), is at heart an old school type who loves to scout, watches a ton of film as his main barometer to evaluate talent, then sit back and make firm decisions from a database like so many front office types now do.


FRONT-OFFICE UPHEAVIAL

Aside from the two big hires, there’s going to be many more shakeups in the front office. Burke has been very vocal since getting into media that the General Manager handling player contracts is a total waste of time and should be farmed out to others in the front office.

Below Hextall, the Penguins have nobody qualified to handle that duty right now, which just makes it unlikely Patrik Allvin is the long-term assistant General Manager under Hextall. Just can’t see it. There are doubts whether Sam Ventura, who was emerging as Jim Rutherford’s No. 2 man, will still have a prominent role in the new front office as his views on personnel just have little chance of lining up with Brian Burke’s views. Ventura’s a big data guy who would surely have opportunities to catch on elsewhere if things no longer work out here. But, make no mistake he’s one of the front office members whose input and authority on personnel decisions is now going to be a complete 360′ compared to three weeks ago.


Who’s Joining the Burke/Hextall Regime?

— Hextall’s right hand man in Philadelphia Chris Pryor, now with the Nashville Predators, will surely be a top target to join the organization. There’s already rumblings as reported by TSN that Burke’s son Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access" Rumblings are former Leafs executive D[ave Poulin is a favorite of Burke’s to try to bring to Pittsburgh and Poulin will also get strong consideration for a top-level role.[/hide]

Another side bar, Burke is big on women getting chances as hockey executives and that’s something many expect Burke to explore and to happen at some point. 29 year old Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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