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Penguins GM Hextall understands anger amid calls for firing

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall grew accustomed to being booed long ago during his lengthy playing career. He's not going to let growing frustration from Pittsburgh's fan base sway him from how he goes about doing his job.

Chants of “Fire Hextall” erupted several times inside PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night as the Penguins were in the midst of getting blown out 7-2 by the Edmonton Oilers. Pittsburgh's fourth straight loss dropped the Penguins to 10th in the Eastern Conference with less than two months to go in the regular season.

“We have high expectations and we haven’t met them,” Hextall said Friday. "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.”

Hextall reiterated that he plans to approach next week's trade deadline looking for deals that could improve the Penguins both this season and in the future. Translation: He's looking for players whose contract extends beyond this season and he's reluctant to part with draft picks to do it.

“We are going to do everything we can to improve the team,” Hextall said. "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.”

The Penguins have made the playoffs 16 straight years, the longest active streak in major North American professional sports. They have been erratic for most of this season and are just 9-12-5 since Dec. 18.

“The hardest thing with our team right now is probably the volatility,” Hextall said. “It’s a tough one quite frankly to put a finger on. ... We’ve showed we’re capable of being a very good team.”

Just not consistently. The Penguins were booed repeatedly Thursday. Even longtime captain Sidney Crosby wasn't immune as a sellout crowd roared in dismay after he opted not to shoot from in close during a power play in the second period.

Crosby shrugged off the angst afterward, saying simply “It was a tough night for everybody.”

Forward Kasperi Kapanen perhaps most of all. The game could be his last in Pittsburgh after the team placed him on waivers Friday, in part to clear salary cap space for defenseman Jan Rutta, who could return to the lineup Saturday in St. Louis.

Kapanen, signed to a two-year deal with an average annual value of $3.2 million, has seven goals and 13 assists in 43 games for the Penguins. His struggles have been symbolic of a team that has had trouble generating offense outside of the top two lines anchored by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“I think he can be a productive player, unfortunately, it hasn’t worked here,” Hextall said of Kapanen. "Tough decisions have to be made along the way and that’s what this was with Kap.”

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