Front Office Shakeup in Pittsburgh, Why There Is Reason for Concern

On Tuesday, in one of the biggest managerial shifts in modern NHL history, the Pittsburgh Penguins hired longtime NHL executive Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations and former Flyers GM Ron Hextall to the same position. The tandem combined will bring over fifty years of management experience to one of hockey’s most elite franchises. This experience will be  extremely important, as the Penguins may be headed towards the rebuilding phase after a period of dominance stretching over a decade.

Despite Penguins CEO David Morehouse’s comments stating how the club is not interested in a rebuild and remain in a “win-now” mode, we believe that the topic shouldn’t be off the table for the team. Their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, who have brought them so much success over the past several years, are all on the wrong side of thirty as well as contracts that expire the year after next (minus Crosby who is signed through the 2024-25 season). Pittsburgh does not have their 1st round pick this season after dealing it to the Minnesota Wild in the Jason Zucker deal, their own 3rd round pick this season after dealing it to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Patrick Marleau (who returned to San Jose following the completion of the 2019-20 season), their own 4th round pick after dealing it in the Phil Kessel trade to the Arizona Coyotes, and their own 6th round pick after dealing it to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the signing rights to John Marino. However, after this draft they own the rights to all of their picks for the foreseeable future. The Penguins have only selected in the first round of an NHL entry draft twice from 2014-2020, which is certainly something we expect to change under the new regime.

Speaking of drafts, in our analysis of these hires we decided to accumulate the draft history of both executives. When reading this, keep in mind that these numbers could change at any time if certain draftees do eventually play NHL games. In doing this analysis we looked at the total number of picks from both GMs (as well as Brian Burke’s tenure as President of Hockey Operations in Calgary) and marked just how many of the picks played a single game in the NHL, as well as how many players played in over one hundred NHL games. Lastly, we included the AB scores of any player we had in our database to reflect these men’s draft history. With that being said, the data below shows every player the new Pittsburgh tandem has ever drafted, and the information discussed earlier in this paragraph. Key: Red= Players to never play an NHL game, Green= Players that played 100+ NHL games. Draft classes are courtesy of HockeyDB. Note: For more recent draft picks, we decided to highlight some players green based on their early career trajectory. These players may not be at the 100 game mark right now; however they will be either by the end of this season or next.

In total, as illustrated in the visual above, Brian Burke led teams have selected 145 times in NHL drafts dating back to 1993. Out of these 145, only 57 ever played an NHL game (39%). Of those 57, 29 players (20%) played over 100 NHL games. This number can increase to 33 if Oliver Kylington, Dillon Dube, Adam Fox, and Jusso Välimäki all cross that threshold, which is entirely possible. Of those 33 players, 12 of them were drafted in the first round (36%), and 2017 1st round pick Jusso Välimäki appears to be heading in the right direction to make that number 13. We have at least one season from every one of these 33 players with the exception of Manny Legace and Artem Chubarov. It’s interesting to note that of these 33, 13 are positive career AB players (8% of total draft picks). These players include Adam Fox (+8.47), Daniel Sedin (+6.02), Henrik Sedin (+5.72), Andrew Mangiapane (+5.25), Matthew Tkachuk (+4.61), Dillon Dube (+3.22), Josh Leivo (+3.09), Rasmus Andersson (+2.58), Nazem Kadri (+2.33), Connor Brown (+2.16), Bobby Ryan (+1.87), Ryan Kesler (+1.53), and R.J. Umberger (+0.05). Of that list, 7 of them are first rounders. Now let’s look at Hextall’s.   

Obviously, the players from the 2017 and 2018 drafts still may need some time to develop, and the players from Hextall’s 2016 drafts that are already playing NHL games will eventually play more. Of Hextall’s 41 total picks, 16 of them (39%) have played an NHL game and 5 (12%) of them have played more than 100 games already. Of those five, four of them are first rounders. This number could increase to 13 (31%) if Mikhail Vorobyov, Carter Hart, Nicholas Aube-Kubel, Morgan Frost, Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, and Joel Farabee all surpass 100 which is entirely possible. Of the sixteen NHL players Hextall has drafted, we have data for eight of them. Of these eight players, four are positive career AB players. These players include Travis Konecny (+2.48), Joel Farabee (+1.73), Nicolas Aube-Kubel (+1.56), and Morgan Frost (+1.39). The next few paragraphs will move on to the next step of our analysis, the actual roster construction aspect of the two executives.

Since the AB score has been tracked (2007-08), Brian Burke has been GM or President of Hockey Operations of  ten teams in our database. The following table shows the team he managed, the year he managed it, the team’s AB score, the team’s record, and their season result.

YearTeamTeam ABRecordResult
2007-08Anaheim+32.4147-27-84th Lost in WCQF
2014-15Calgary+21.0745-30-78th Lost in WCSF
2016-17Calgary-16.5245-33-47th Lost in WCQF

Of Burke’s ten teams, only three made the playoffs, and only two were positive AB teams. This should be concerning for Penguins fans given that the average finish of a Brian Burke team since the formation of AB was 10th in the conference. The average individual player AB score on a Brian Burke team during that same span was -2.48 with the average team score being -58.37. Combined, all of Burke’s teams accounted for -583.66 individual AB during these ten seasons. Now let’s look at Hextall’s.

YearTeamTeam ABRecordResult
2015-16Philadelphia-14.2041-27-147th Lost in ECQF
2017-18Philadelphia+33.9342-26-146th Lost in ECQF

Hextall did a bit better in terms of playoff appearances (two in four years). However, his team’s failed to win a playoff series during his tenure. He only had one positive AB team out of four, and his team’s average finish was 9th in the conference. The average individual player AB score on a Ron Hextall team during that four-year span was -1.18 with an average team score being -25.93. Combined, all of Hextall’s teams accounted for -103.72 individual AB during these four seasons.

To conclude, the tandem of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall have drafted 186 players combined, of which, 73 players have played an NHL game and 34 players have played 100+ NHL games (number can increase to 45 in the near future if recent draft picks continue to play). The average finish from a team assembled by these executives since the AB started in 2007-08 is 10th place, with an average team score of -49.10. The average AB score of a player on those teams was -2.13, and in total these players combined for -678.38 individual AB across the ten season span. Most importantly, the tandem has only won one playoff series during this stretch as well. With ownership not pursuing an immediate rebuild, this is setting Burke and Hextall up for failure, as players such as Letang and Malkin’s trade value today is certainly higher than it would be a year from now. However, if the Penguins do transition to a rebuild under this new regime, it will be different than that of their predecessors, as we may start to see lower AB squads out of Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. It will surely be interesting to pay attention to the new management group in one of hockey’s most famous franchises, and we will definitely continue to monitor the situation there. Thank you for reading, much more to come.


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