Penguins shoot Ron Heckstall, Brian Burke and Chris Pryor: What went wrong and what’s next

The team announced Friday that the Penguins have fired general manager Ron Heckstall, chief of hockey operations Brian Burke and assistant general manager Chris Pryor. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Hextall and Burke were hired on February 9, 2021 — less than two weeks after the shock resignation of former GM Jim Rutherford. Burke was the franchise’s first president of hockey operations.
  • Their best streak of 16 consecutive playoff games ended this season.
  • Hextall is the first Penguins GM since Tony Esposito (April 14, 1988 – December 5, 1989) not to win a Stanley Cup.
  • Pittsburgh hired Prior in 2021 as Director of Player Personnel.

What happened

Hextall and Burke didn’t seem a stylist match when hired, but the Penguins were desperate for in-season hires to replace Rutherford early during the short pandemic COVID-19 season. Hextall’s patient/receptive-focused approach and Burke’s boisterousness contrasted with Rutherford’s aggressive/inclusive philosophy and congenial demeanors.

Go deeper

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Previous owners (Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle) were hired to keep the Penguins in cup contention while also building for the future, Hextall and Burke were put through several deals and signings that failed to come out, inconsistency, goaltending injuries and salary cap issues . Fenway Sports Group (FSG) purchased the Penguins midway through the tandem’s first full management season (2021-22).

What then

The Penguins don’t have a CEO, so it’s not clear who will oversee the search for a CEO. It’s also unclear if they will look to hire another president of hockey operations or return to having the next general manager oversee the hockey division. Burke’s role was never explicitly specified, and he seemed to serve more as an advisor to Hextall.

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FSG is still relatively new to hockey, although it has overseen system changes with its other big sports properties – baseball’s Boston Red Sox and Premier League’s Liverpool Football Club. FSG will likely want to recruit a new manager/management team no later than the NHL Draft in late June.

training effect

Coach Mike Sullivan is under contract through the 2026-27 season after signing a three-year extension last summer. A two-time Trophy winner and winningest coach in franchise history, Sullivan has the support of the Penguins’ two most influential players – captain Sidney Crosby and first choice Evgeni Malkin.

A new manager/management team will likely give Sullivan at least next season to prove he’s their man behind the bench. Associate coach Todd Rearden and assistant coach Mike Vellucci signed an extension last summer that expires after the 2023-24 season.

what are they saying

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work in such a passionate sports city,” Burke said he said on Twitter. “Thank you to FSG, Mario Lemieux, David Moorhouse, management, coaches, and especially our amazing group of players. I wish the Penguins and their amazing fan base all the best in the future.”

required reading

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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