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"No-Brainer" for Hextall and Burke to Come on Board

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Penguins were thrilled to name Ron Hextall general manager and Brian Burke president of hockey operations on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

In their new roles, Hextall will oversee the Penguins' day-to-day hockey operations, reporting to Burke as his primary advisor. Burke will report to David Morehouse, the team's president and CEO.

"We feel incredibly lucky to bring in two highly-respected executives with a combined 50-plus years of NHL management experience," Morehouse said. "Ron and Brian are well-known in the hockey world as fierce competitors with championship pedigrees. They're very well-connected and experienced in all aspects of the game. They are both excited to get to work here in Pittsburgh, blending their skills and building on our long tradition of success."

Video: Hextall, Burke and Morehouse speak with the media.

Here's a look at how the hirings came together and what's ahead.

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After Jim Rutherford resigned as general manager for personal reasons just under two weeks ago on Wednesday, Jan. 27, the search for his replacement began immediately.

Morehouse had a trusted group of advisors that he spoke with throughout the process, including Burke, as he spent 31 years as an NHL executive and won the Stanley Cup in 2007 as GM of the Anaheim Ducks.

"David called me and said, 'let's go through some of the candidates,'" said Burke, who had been working as a hockey analyst for Sportsnet since stepping back from his role in Calgary's front office in 2018. "Tell me about Hexy."

Morehouse said that Hextall was the person that he and Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle wanted for the job. They interviewed Hextall twice - first on Thursday, Feb. 4 and again on Monday - and had a number of discussions inbetween.

"I was interested pretty quickly," said Hextall, who had been working as an advisor for Los Angeles, where he was assistant GM from 2006-13 and won the Stanley Cup in 2012. "When things happen like they did with Jimmy and a job opens up, the first thing you do is your own research. I've watched from afar with the Pittsburgh organization, and they're a first-class organization. I admire the way they're run."

Hextall has been in NHL management for more than 20 years and had a four-year stint as GM of the Flyers from 2014-18. He played a key role in building their current roster, drafting Carter Hart, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Joel Farabee, Nolan Patrick, Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel to complement the veteran core of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek.

And while Hextall, a former elite NHL goaltender, spent the majority of his playing career in Philadelphia, he actually spent part of his childhood in Pittsburgh (Green Tree, to be exact) when his father, Bryan Jr., was a center for the Penguins from 1969-74. And during that time, Ron looked up to Rutherford, who was teammates with Bryan Jr. for parts of three seasons.

"He was very good to me," Hextall said. "He gave me his mask, he gave me his skates, he played road hockey with me. He was my biggest idol when I was a child. He did a terrific job."

So as Hextall joked, if you had told him two years ago that he'd be GM of the Penguins, he would have started laughing. But the team has been a part of his history since he was a kid, and he's elated that it's come full circle.

"I started playing hockey in Pittsburgh, ironically," Hextall said. "And now here we are. I'm very excited about it. We will not get outworked. We will come up with a plan. And every day, we will come up with ways to make the Pittsburgh Penguins a better hockey club."

"We know Ron Hextall very well," Morehouse said. "We're going to harness that competitive fire from the other side of the ice. Mario, Ron (Burkle) and I had a good talk about that. I can tell you Mario is as excited as anyone."

When Morehouse was talking to Lemieux about offering Hextall the GM position, No. 66 told him to get in touch with Burke to see if he would be interested in a job with Pittsburgh as well.

"I called Burkie and said, 'Hey, Burkie, Mario just asked me to give you a call,'" Morehouse recounted. "There was silence on the other end of the phone. And he said, 'you know, David, if it was anyone else, I'd be able to tell you no right now. But can I sleep on it a little bit?'"

He did just that, and after talking with his family, Burke told Morehouse the next day that it was an opportunity he just couldn't refuse.

"I've worked for a number of teams here, but I don't recall being this excited about taking a job," Burke said. "I was happy with my life; I was happy with what I was doing. But when you get to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins, man, this is Cadillac class here. I'm so excited to move to Pittsburgh. It's one of the great sports towns on the planet. It's the best sports town in America, for me. This is a chance to work with Hexy, who I've known for a long time; a chance to work for great owners; and a chance to work for an organization that's revered. So to me, it was a no-brainer."

Morehouse used that same term when it came to creating the role of President of Hockey Operations, which is a first for the organization, so that Burke could also come on board.

"We didn't have our mind made up that we were going to have any kind of different structure when we started this search," Morehouse said. "I think it just falls into our philosophy of getting the best talent we can, whether it be on the ice or off the ice or on the business side. If I could get both Ron Hextall and Brian Burke on our team, it's a no-brainer. So I think the structure has nothing to do with anything other than the talent that we have sitting in front of you right now."

And as Hextall pointed out, being a general manager in the National Hockey League is a huge undertaking.

"You need to have other people to help you and guide you and work with you," Hextall said. "Burkie and I are going to be a team. We're going to work together. We're going to work hard. Philosophically, we've talked and we're on the same page. He's going to take things off of my plate and I'm going to take things off of his plate. So I think we're going to have a terrific working relationship."

That also applies to Patrik Allvin, who became interim GM of the Penguins when Rutherford resigned and will resume his role as assistant general manager under Hextall and Burke.

"He is extremely well-regarded," Burke said of Allvin, who has been with the Penguins since 2006 and has impressive hockey knowledge and reach within the hockey world. "We look forward to working with him."

Both Hextall and Burke were adamant that they aren't trying to reinvent how the Penguins are run. They believe it's an organization that has everything in place to win now.

"It's not like Burkie and I are going to walk in and change everything," Hextall said. "When something's running very well, you don't change things. You might tweak a bit here or tweak a bit there to try and make things a little more the way you think of them, or a little better."

As Morehouse said at the beginning of the search, they were looking for someone who could come in, take over a talented team with a good coaching staff led by Mike Sullivan, and take it as far as they can. The fact that they now have two of the greatest minds and respected people in hockey to help them do just that is an absolute luxury.

"They're the two, along with coach Sullivan, who are going to take us in a direction we're used to being taken," Morehouse said. "Nothing's changed. We're the Pittsburgh Penguins and we're here to win."

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