Kingersky: Where’s Ron Hextall?

There has been no trade for the Pittsburgh Penguins in over seven months. It’s not like Penguins GM Ron Hextall takes golf vacations or flies around the world and ignores his duties. No, Penguin’s general manager is most, if not all, gamer. He was frequently seen popping into the coach’s office for short visits after road games and was frequently at the side of the Hockey Operations Chief, Brian Burke.

Attendance is not Hextall’s problem.


Hextall has not moved a player into or out of the organization since July 16, when it acquired Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling for Mike Mathison And the fourth is round.

That was over seven months and 44 games ago. For a team fighting to stay afloat and extend its streak of playoff appearances to 17, inaction stands in stark contrast to its predecessors. Continuing the similarity, the hull is pierced, and the boat absorbs water.

The Penguins hold the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but do not make ground in the rest of the D.C. region. They are 10 points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils and 11 behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who have lost all four games this season.

Depending on the games at hand, the Penguins have a one-to-five point lead over the New York Islanders, a four-to-six-point lead over an improving Buffalo Sabers in that last-place spot, and four-to-eight points ahead of the incumbent President’s Cup-winning Florida Panthers.

Nobody should feel comfortable about that.

Securing a 17th consecutive match appearance is no longer a formality. He appears to be in greater danger than at any time since head coach Mike Sullivan’s inception in December 2015.

Hextall signed Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen last summer, pledging a total of $4.2 million to the fourth-line players, who didn’t contribute anything close to a comparable value for the expenses.

Instead, the Penguins have less than $100,000 in salary cap space. When the team called up Jonathan Gruden this week, his cap space had shrunk to just over $18,000.

The team couldn’t add another player, even at $15 an hour.

The problems are getting worse, not better. Hopes that the situation with the six lowest penguins will be correct of course must now subside.

Consecutive scores put the Penguins’ best players on the wrong side of the puck. It also adds a few miles that are more difficult for the scorers, rather than the less taxing minutes in the offensive zone.

Where’s Hextall?

I also think Coach Mike Sullivan’s anger on Wednesday was fueled by frustration with the lineup he was running out of on the ice. After lifting Teddy Blueger to the third-line position and sliding Jeff Carter to the right wing, Sullivan officially tried everything possible.

And nothing worked.

Many GMs also hold press conferences in the middle of the season.

Question #1 would be, “Ron, how would you rate the bottom six attackers, and do you feel compelled to add?”

As Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman noted on a recent podcast for 32 Ideas, “Ron Heckstall absolutely hates trade rumors.” Most GMs do, except for the ones that make them work for them rather than against them.

Attendance at PPG Paints Arena hasn’t been great this season. The lack of important shows, if not unsold tickets, became apparent on TV and in person. Penguin lovers have lost some enthusiasm.

Where’s Hextall?

I also wonder if some players are losing a little bit of enthusiasm. Bad performances were very common. Struggles, lackluster efforts, and malaise have become commonplace.

Hextall is the only person who can begin to reform the team he created, albeit with good intentions. He didn’t necessarily make major mistakes, save for re-signing Kapanen, but not every decision will work. GM should be set.

The Penguins are in a playoff position in part because of a 15-3-2 run that started in November, and in part because the Sabers juniors spent the first half of the season getting their footing and the New York Islanders are a flawed team capable of. Excellent play and horrible games in the same week.

Pittsburgh Penguins Urgency?

After the Ottawa Senators beat the Penguins Wednesday night, Brady Tkachuk said Ottawa will treat the remaining games against the Penguins as a “do-or-die” thing.

Ottawa trails the Penguins by eight points for a playoff spot. Such desperation in January is admirable, if not enviable.

Can you imagine any of the Penguins announcing that upcoming games against their metro rivals in the top three would be do-or-die?

No, that level of urgency was not present in the Penguins’ locker room this season. Actions speak louder than words.

Perhaps the worst part about being an NHLer in your 30s is having enough perspective to know that the sun will still shine tomorrow, regardless of last night’s results.

This may also be part of the problem for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team designed to win now doesn’t win. The 22-15-7 record means they have lost as many games as they have won.

Where’s Hextall?

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