PITTSBURGH — Ron Hextall doesn’t sound like someone who’s ready to hit the reset button.
The East Division champions are smarting from a third straight first-round playoff exit — this time a six-game loss to the New York Islanders — but Hextall will spend his first offseason with the team retooling around Crosby, Malkin and Letang rather than rebuilding.
“We see a future with this core,” Hextall said. “These guys have been here a long time. We had a good year. It certainly didn’t give me pause to think about what we should do with this core. It certainly didn’t give me pause to think about what we should do with this core.”
Hextall added he expects to have all three back next season “for sure.” The same apparently goes for goaltender Tristan Jarry.
Hextall, hired in February after Jim Rutherford’s abrupt resignation, expressed confidence in Jarry despite Jarry’s shaky playoff performance. Jarry’s ill-advised outlet pass in Game 5 led directly to Josh Bailey’s game-winning overtime goal. He followed it up by allowing five goals in Game 6 as Pittsburgh’s season came to an abrupt halt.
“You saw what happened in Game 5, an unfortunate error there. And then Game 6 wasn’t the best. But I don’t think we would have been where we were without Tristan and we all have to remember Tristan is a young player,” he said. “He’s going to learn from this and he’s going to come back better in September.”
As will coach Mike Sullivan. Hextall said he and president of hockey operations Brian Burke are in sync with the two-time Stanley Cup winner. Sullivan emphasizes speed and skill in his approach, something Hextall doesn’t plan to get away from while allowing the Penguins might benefit a bit from a bigger lineup.
“Of course we’d like to add a little bit of size, a little bit of toughness. Yes, it would be nice,” Hextall said. “But there’s not a lot out there. We’ll look at what’s there this summer and we’ll make adjustments. But if we go into next season with this group we’re comfortable.”
That includes focusing on players who can make an immediate impact with Crosby, Malkin and Letang all in their mid-30s. Hextall stressed the team remains in “win-now” mode heading into 2021-22. Pittsburgh’s streak of 15 consecutive postseason berths is the longest active streak in major North American professional sports.
“We’re comfortable with our team,” Hextall said. “We had a real good regular season and played well in the playoffs. That doesn’t mean we won’t look to get better. You always look to get better. If we can find ways to tweak things and get better, we will.”