Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall heard the reactions of angry fans on Thursday night but isn’t changing his plans ahead of the March 3 trade deadline.
“We have high expectations and we haven’t met them,” Hextall said while speaking with reporters on Friday, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “People pay good money to come to the rink, and they have the right to chant and say whatever they choose. It’s not going to affect anything I do … Criticism is part of the business.”
During Pittsburgh’s 7-2 home blowout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, enraged Penguins fans chanted “Fire Hextall” inside PPG Paints Arena on multiple occasions, particularly after the game got well out of hand. That was Pittsburgh’s fourth straight defeat and a result that left some believing the club’s active playoff streak of 16 consecutive seasons, the longest such streak in North American sports, is in serious jeopardy.
The Penguins entered Friday night with 63 points and trailed the Florida Panthers (64 points), Detroit Red Wings (64 points) and New York Islanders (67 points) in the battle for a pair of wild-card postseason berths. While Mark Madden wrote for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Friday that the Penguins should be sellers before the trade deadline, Hextall indicated he will go in the opposite direction as long as he can do so without sacrificing valuable draft picks.
“We are going to do everything we can to improve the team,” Hextall insisted. “We’re not looking to spend big assets on rentals. If we’re going to spend, it’s going to help us this year and in years to come.”
As The Athletic’s Rob Rossi and others have mentioned, Pittsburgh keeping its “Big Three” of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang together played a role in the club facing a serious salary-cap crunch before the deadline. The harsh truth of the matter is that Hextall probably can’t do anything this winter to turn the struggling Penguins into a Stanley Cup contender by June.