The Pittsburgh Penguins’ new management team will be in place soon. With new GM Ron Hextall, Brian Burke will assume the role of President of Hockey Operations as he arrives in town on Sunday. Hockey insiders are already pontificating about the first big Hextall and Burke move on the NHL trade market. Some, including a source close to the Penguins, are already speculating about John Gibson, a native Pittsburgh son, who is in a sinking situation in Burke’s old stomping grounds, Anaheim.
Also, in Off the Record, did the Vancouver Canucks owner try to put out a fire that he started? And, are the Blackhawks still all-in on the rebuild they warned fans about, or are they suddenly seeing visions of playoffs dance through their heads?
More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:
1. Could the Penguins Try To Rescue Gibson?
Last Monday, a trusted NHL source for ‘Off The Record’ hinted that Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson and his agent Kurt Overhardt were starting to send smoke signals that they were concerned about the Anaheim Ducks’ direction.
Despite being tied for the least amount of goals in the West Division heading into action on Saturday night, the Ducks (6-6-3, 15 pts) were somehow a playoff team, tied with the Stanley Cup favorite Colorado Avalanche in points. Gibson – who got his third shutout of the season with a 21-save performance in a 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Friday – is hands down the main reason the Ducks are not dead last in the season. They’re at the bottom of the division in goals scored with just 30 lamplighters, and yet, they have a chance to win every game because of Gibson.
Then another source, who is close to the Penguins, echoed the worries about Gibson’s happiness and immediately tied Burke to Anaheim.
Off the record: “Look, here’s the deal on ‘Gibby’, he’s wondering what’s next in Anaheim and where they’re going,” said the NHL source to OTR this past week. “There’s buzz there as far as his future with the Ducks. I’m telling you right now, a guy like Brian Burke. …connections still in Anaheim, watch out! Pittsburgh kid? All over that.”
Based on conversations with another Penguins source, the fact that President and Chief Executive Officer David Morehouse loves playing to the Pittsburgh crowd (in his farewell to Jim Rutheford, he emphasized the city connections and did so again with the incoming Hextall), and the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending situation suddenly becoming murky, some around the NHL are wondering if Burke’s first big move on the NHL trade pond will be to use his Anaheim connections to upgrade the Penguins net… IF, IF Gibson really becomes available.
Canucks Ownership Owned Up
Just after the 7 p.m., Hockey Night In Canada kicked off with the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto for a rematch with the Maple Leafs, Francesco Aquilini, Managing Director of Aquilini Investment Group, that owns the Vancouver Canucks went on a Twitter rant denying that Canucks GM Jim Benning and/or Head Coach Travis Green were about to be let go.
This has been a unique year for everyone. Roster changes, very little training camp, no pre-season, and just a few practice days. It takes time for new players to fit in and a new group chemistry to take hold, both on and off the ice.
— Francesco Aquilini (@fr_aquilini) February 14, 2021
On his regular radio spot on Sportsnet 590 Friday morning, NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman speculated that Jim Benning’s time as General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks could be coming to an end soon.
“I do think the timetable has been moved forward,” Friedman said. “I do think there’s a possibility of a change coming soon.”
Well, as yours truly was live on ‘The Ice Guys’ early Saturday afternoon, my phone was lighting up with texts from three different NHL sources (two management, one an NHL scout), all telling me that Benning likely wouldn’t make it to next Friday. One of the sources claimed that Canucks ownership was “poking around for a new GM.”
Off the record: More notable was one source who previously sat in a similar chair to Benning. The source had some harsh words for the situation.
“This is pretty much bullshit that he was thinking of letting him go,” the source said. “Aquilini put an internal cap on Jim. That’s why he had to let so many free agents go. Could he have managed the cap better, and did that have an effect? Yes. But Aquilini looked around, and it got public, and now there’s a public clock on Jim. It’s not right.”
Well, that was at 12:43 PM ET when this source called out the Canucks owner, and just under seven hours later, Aquilini dropped a Twitter rant denying it.
“He’s saving face,” the same source said at 9 PM ET. “I’m glad the heat’s off Jim because he doesn’t deserve all that stress, but that’s all Aquilini realizing he’s part of this bad start, and I guess good for him owning up, but it should’ve never got to that.”
3. Are The Blackhawks Still Rebuilding Or Retooling?
Just like the Anaheim Ducks, the Chicago Blackhawks (7-5-4, 18 points) have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start this season. They’re tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the last playoff spot in the Central Division and do not look exactly like the rebuilding team ownership let fans know they’d be this season. Patrick Kane has four multi-point games in his last seven games. Unlike Anaheim, Chicago doesn’t have a potential Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes. So, in a shortened season, do they continue down that rebuild path or try and capture lightning in a bottle and hit the NHL trade market to accelerate their timeline?
Off the record: “I can tell you this: Stan Bowman at the beginning of the season, was not going to hang up the phone. If you had something worthwhile, that could get you Patrick Kane in a trade,” an NHL source told OTR this past week. “I’m not saying he made ‘Kaner’ available, but he was willing to listen. Now I’m not so sure. I mean, with all things considered and you’re in it right now, a quarter way through, why not? They got some good young skill there, and they may just buy at the deadline if they’re still where they are now.”