The Sports Porch
Feb. 25, 2023

Hockey Jesus Sermon: Should Hextall Be Fired?

Hockey Jesus Sermon: Should Hextall Be Fired?

The Hockey Jesus is always slow to anger, so before I jump on the bandwagon with those Pens fans during the 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night in PPG Arena and call for the firing of Ron Hextall, let’s do a fair but thorough review of his time here as general manager of the Penguins. Since the moment of his hiring, there were some serious red flags. Hextall was an arch nemesis not only as a player, but also later as a GM for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Hockey Jesus hated watching Ron Hextall torture the Penguins as the hot-headed goalie who wasn’t afraid to slash any penguin who got too far into the crease. But just because he was hated as a player and the GM of a hated rival; is that enough to predict that Ron Hextall would sabotage the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club as it’s new GM? Let’s look at his history.

Hextall’s History as GM

The Flyers during Ron Hextall’s tenure weren’t a very good hockey club. Hextall inherited a playoff team who finished 6th in the 2013-14 season and immediately turned them into a loser – finishing 12th in the 2014-15 season. In the 2015-16 season they rebounded and made the playoffs only to lose to the Capitals in the first round. In 2016-17 the Flyers were 11th in the east. In 2017-18 the Flyers rebounded to finish 6th in the east only to lose to our Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. His inconsistent teams led to his firing after a rough start to the 2018-19 season. So in 4 full season he had 2 playoff teams who never won a series. Not exactly a stellar career.

So why did the Penguins hire Ron Hextall

Let’s relive some of the past, shall we? It’s January 2021 and the pandemic still raging, as things are trying to swing towards normal again.  Jim Rutherford, the GM of the Penguins at the time,  can’t take the health concerns and time away from family and tenders his immediate resignation. Suddenly, and without notice, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves looking for a new GM. The owners were in negotiations to sell the team to FSG (Fenway Sports Group), unknown at the time, they had large contracts coming up and the focus of the entire management wasn’t on the hiring of a GM but on the direction of the Penguins on the ice, namely signing or not signing the likes of LeTang, Geno, and possibly Rust. Couple this with the fact that we just let Mark Andre Fleury go to the Vegas Golden Knights, who rode him to a Stanley Cup Final. This was seen by many in Pittsburgh as a mistake. So, the Penguins were looking for someone who would be comfortable keeping the team together, and not give away the future and be a drafter of new talent. Does that sound like Hextall?

Evaluation of Hextall

In an article taking about Hextall right after the firing from BroadStreetBuzz, there are some inciteful comments on his tenure with Philly. Hextall was considered a very good draft day contributor, trading up and getting good value in the draft. This would be a big checkmark for the Penguins. They knew good drafts were essential, with no talent left in Wilkes-Barre. The article also notes that Hextall had a stubbornness to stick with the team that he had. While that may be bad when you have terrible talent, it’s certainly not when you have future hall-of-famers on your team with soon expiring contracts. I believe the Penguins organization wanted, maybe even needed, to hire someone who was willing to re-sign LeTang, Geno, and Rust. Lastly the article states that he wasn’t a very good identifier of talent, signing mid-level talent to contracts for way too long. The Hockey Jesus believes that is why they also brought in Brian Burke, as a check against this. Burke was supposed to be the “no guy” to Hextall when he tried to sign the wrong players to long term contracts. This obviously failed.  Either Burke was derelict or Hextall had too much power. Either way some terrible contracts were the result:  Kapanen, Blueger, McGinn, and Carter.

So how has Hextall done in drafts? No draft day deals in Pittsburgh - not one. In 2021 Hextall only had 3 picks, none who seem to be destined for greatness. In 2022, of the 5 picks, only the #1 pick Owen Pickering, a left-handed defensemen may be ready for the team... next year. Looking towards the future in 2023 the Pens only have 4 draft picks, and all 7 draft picks for 2024. With this track record I think it’s safe to say that either Hextall or his long-term assistant Chris Pryor aren’t exactly lighting the lamp in adding talent to the lineup.

Penguins History with General Managers

The Hockey Jesus does not want to relive the Ray Shero days so let’s look at Jim Rutherford's tenure as GM for the Pens. I think it’s inciteful to know what we left behind as a comparison against what we have.

GM JR came to Pittsburgh literally 9 days after Ron Hextall was hired in Philadelphia. Jim Rutherford immediately replaced Dan Bylsma, a coach who brought the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh for the first time since 1992. His hire was Mike Sullivan... so he’s a genius, right? Nope... GM JR hired Mike Johnson to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins. He hired Mike Sullivan to coach the Baby Penguins. You don’t remember Mike Johnson because the team barely made the playoffs in his first season and he was fired 23 games into the 2015-16 season and replaced by Mike Sullivan... who coached the Pens to a Stanley Cup. Throw in some draft days deal with GM JR and we get Phil Kessel and you have back-to-back Stanley cups. So, while GM JR wasn’t initially the best GM, his long term plan was thoughtful and he knew when to pivot and change the situation which in the end made him a winner. Will Hextall pivot and make a change?


What does the Hockey Jesus think, should we just be patient like we were with GM JR and give him some space? Or should Ron Hextall take the entire blame and be fired immediately for his sabotaging techniques? First, I believe that the Penguins organization was not ready to replace Jim Rutherford. I think Jim’s immediate departure caught the owners by surprise and they were not prepared to make a good decision regarding the GM. The window was closing on a historic run by future hall of fame players and they were relying on JR to make another blockbuster trade to get them there again in 2021, they were after-all in 1st place at the time. Instead, GM JR left the organization, and I believe the Penguins' chances for one more run went with it.

Does that mean that Hextall can save it? The answer is... no he can’t. He was hired to keep the team together via the signings of Geno, Rust, Rakell and Letang, and we might as well add Sullivan to this list. He wasn’t brought in to shake things up and make this team new again like GM JR was. So in essence he is mostly doing his job. However, I think his inability to be kept in check with bad long term deals like McGinn, Carter, Kapanen, and Blueger, and his lack of talent to draft the next era of great Penguins complementary players like Jordan Staahl or Bryan Rust or Jake Guentzel are things that cannot be overlooked. For these reasons the Hockey Jesus preaches that Hextall must go.

If Ron Hextall isn’t fired, the best you can hope for is that the Penguins still have about 4 more years to figure this out before the big 3 are nothing but a page in the history books of the NHL. Maybe in the 2023 and the 2024 drafts Hextall will dig up the next great talent to complement Sid. One thing is certain... if history is a predicts the future and the Penguins don’t make the playoffs this year it is likely that a new GM will be in town and if he replaces the head coach maybe it will be exactly what the Penguins organization needs to get back to greatness.

Timeline of Events

2014: Flyers 42-30-10 – 6th NYR first round loss :Penguins 1st in east 51-24-7 2nd round loss to NYR

05-07-2014 Ron Hextall hired as GM of the Flyers

05-16-2014 Pittsburgh Penguins fire Ray Shero and hire Jim Rutherford

06-25-2014 Penguins fire Dan Bylsma hire Mike Johnson

2015: Flyers 33-31-18 12th in the East: Penguins 43-27-12 8th in the East (worst record in Sid playoff era)

2016: Flyers 41-27-14 7th in the East CAPS 1st round loss: Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Champions

2017: Flyers 39-33-10 11th in the East: Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Champions

2018: Flyers 42-26-14 6th in the East 1st round loss to Pens: Pens 2nd round loss to Caps

Penguins lose Mark Andre Fleury

11-26-2018 Hextall fired as GM of the Flyers

2019-2020 – Pens 1st round exits in Playoffs

01-27-2021 – GM JR resigns

02-09-2021 – Ron Hextall and Brian Burke hired

04-12-2021 – Hextall picks up Jeff Carter for 3rd and 4th round pick (Kings pay 50% salary)

2021 Pens finished 1st in the East with a 37-16-3 record, shortened season from covid

2021 Playoffs lose to 4th seed NYI in 1st round (6 games)

07-14-21 Signed Blueger 2 year $4.4M

07-17-21 Trade Jared McCann for Filip Hallander (Toronto) - bad

07-28-21 Sign Brock McGinn to a 4 year $11M contract – why?

11-29-2021 – FSG buys Pittsburgh Penguins

01-26-22 Extended Jeff Carter contract 2 years $6.25M – why?

03-21-22 Pens trade for Ricard Rakell (lose 2nd round pick) +$2.5M

2022 Pens finish 3rd in the Metro 46-25-11

2022 Playoffs lose to 2nd seed NYR in 1st round (7 games)

2022 Signed DeSmith 2 years $3.6M, Letang 6 years $36.6M, Rakell 6 years $30M, Geno 4 years $24.4M, Kapanen 2 year $6.4M

2022 Trade Marino for Ty Smith -$3M, Matheson for Petry & Poehling +$2.125M to cap

Currently – Pens wavering to make the Playoffs

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