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The Architect

Shero's Firm and Honest Approach Has Set the Tone for the Penguins' Organization

Monday, 09.20.2010 / 10:15 AM / Features
By Sam Kasan
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The Architect
The Takeaway
- The Penguins and general manager Ray Shero agreed on a new five-year contract
- Shero helped the Penguins win their third Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2008-09 with key acquisitions and the late-season promotion of head coach Dan Bylsma
- Shero has solidified the Penguins long-term competitiveness by locking up the team’s foundational players (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Orpik, Letang, Michalek, Martin) to long-term deals
- Shero put his imprint on the Penguins hockey operations department by revamping the staff and structure, upgrading pro and amateur scouting and implemented a new approach to player relations
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Penguins general manager Ray Shero spent the last few years ensuring the team’s long-term competitiveness and success by locking up a solid foundation of players to multi-year contracts.

Ray Shero (Getty Images)
Now the Penguins have locked up the foundation’s foundation.

The Penguins and Shero have agreed on a five-year contract extension that ensures the team’s 2009 Stanley Cup champion architect will remain in Pittsburgh through the 2015-16 season.

“I’d like to thank Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle and the ownership group for showing confidence in me,” Shero said. “They made a decision to hire me back in May of 2006, and it’s worked out for both of us. The ownership group has supported me and given me the resources to do the job. The stability we get from with our ownership group is how you have success both on and off the ice.

“I wanted to stay here long term. This is a good fit for me and my family.”

On the hockey operations front, Shero’s work speaks for itself. He helped rebuild the Penguins from a club that finished at the bottom of the NHL standings for five-straight seasons into a perennial contender.

Shero inherited a team with an abundance of talent when he was hired May 25, 2006. But his fine-tuning and personnel moves helped Pittsburgh win the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference title in 2008 and the Stanley Cup championship in 2009.

Ray Shero hoists the Stanley Cup (Getty Images)
“To be able to win a Stanley Cup in my third year with this group meant a great deal,” Shero said. “It meant a great deal for our players because it is very difficult to achieve. It gave us a lot of credibility moving forward of being a competitive hockey team.”

Thanks to Shero, the Penguins will be a championship contender for years to come with the long-term signings of core players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin.

Much has already been written and discussed about Shero’s craftiness and abilities in building a championship team (see below), but his philosophy and management style is highly underrated, and possibly his best asset.

“The first thing I wanted to do after being hired was establish a foundation for the organization,” he said. “We hired different people, a new training staff, director of player personnel, director of player development and a director of team services to take care of the players and their families. Establishing that foundation with the right people has been very important.”

Shero modernized the Penguins hockey operations department, utilizing cutting-edge technology and scouting methods, upgraded and expanded the team’s pro and amateur scouting, added a player development director and created a player-friendly environment.

Shero’s firm and honest approach and managerial style has set the tone for the Penguins team.

“We talk about passion, work ethic and accountability for our hockey team, but I say all the time that it includes our scouts, our trainers, our coaches, our management,” Shero said. “It’s managing people. It’s great to give people the latitude to do their job and make decisions. I like giving them responsibility, whether it’s coaching, scouts or trainers making decisions, at the end I’m responsible for their decisions. If you hire the right people, they have ideas and can be creative. I think that makes for a better organization.”

And that philosophy will reign in the Penguins organization as long as Shero is in charge. Which, thanks to his new contract, will be for (at least) the next five seasons.




DAN THE MAN
Shero’s most difficult decision as general manager came in mid-February of 2009. The Penguins, who had played in the Stanley Cup Final the season before, struggled to a 27-25-5 record and
Dan Bylsma (Getty Images)
languished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings with the hopes of a playoff berth fading.

Sensing that the team needed a drastic change, Shero promoted Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Dan Bylsma to “interim” head coach of the Penguins and named Tom Fitzgerald as “interim assistant coach” – changing the course of the team’s history forever.

The Penguins responded with a furious 18-3-4 finish and climbed to fourth place in the conference standings – capturing home-ice advantage in the opening round. During the postseason, Pittsburgh trumped Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina and Detroit to capture the Stanley Cup.


DEADLINE MAGIC
Shero has never been afraid of aggressively pursuing ways to make the Penguins better, particularly around the NHL’s trade deadline.

In 2009, Shero traded for Chris Kunitz (Anaheim) and Bill Guerin (NY Islanders), and claimed Craig Adams (Chicago) on waivers. The three players played pivotal roles on Pittsburgh’s Cup-winning finish.

Shero made the biggest deadline splash in 2008 when he acquired the most-valuable commodity available in super sniper Marian Hossa (Atlanta), as well as Pascal Dupuis (Atlanta) and Hal Gill (Toronto). The additions helped Pittsburgh win the Eastern Conference title and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992.

Dupuis and Gill would help the Penguins claim the most-coveted trophy in sports just one season later.

In his first season in Pittsburgh, Shero added Georges Laraque  (Phoenix) and Gary Roberts (Florida) to help the team end a six-year playoff drought and laid the groundwork for future postseason success.


IT’S STAAL GOOD
Shero was named Penguins general manager May 25, 2006 and had less than a month to prepare for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft – where the team held the No. 2 overall selection.

In Shero’s first major player personnel decision, he selected Peterborough stud Jordan Staal. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound center made the immediate jump to the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie, scoring 29 goals and a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) nomination.

Staal’s shutdown defensive abilities were crucial to the Penguins’ 2009 championship. The 2010 Selke nominee (best defensive forward) went head-to-head with opposing teams’ top lines during the playoff run – handling such players as Jeff Carter, brother Eric Staal and Marian Hossa.


2010 FREE AGENCY GOLD
The Penguins were arguably the biggest winner of the 2010 NHL free agency period. Within the first few hours of the opening bell, Pittsburgh had locked up two of the best defenseman available (Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin) to five-year contracts – giving the Penguins one of the best defensive units in the league.

Coach Bylsma with Paul Martin
But what gave Pittsburgh the upper hand over the rest of the league was the pre-free agency strategy.

The four best available blueliners on the market were Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis, Martin and Michalek. Gonchar and the Penguins were already in the midst of contract negotiations when Shero pulled the trigger on a trade that changed the free agency landscape.

At the conclusion of the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Shero sent a 2011 third-round choice to Philadelphia for the rights Hamhuis. The deal gave Pittsburgh exclusive negotiating rights for Gonchar and Hamhuis.

The Penguins worked diligently to sign Gonchar and Hamhuis, but as the deadline approached it became clear that both parties were too far apart. At that point, Shero turned his attention to Michalek and Martin.

As soon as free agency struck, teams spread their resources in an attempt to land one of the four highly valued defensemen. But the Penguins didn’t waste time on Gonchar or Hamhuis. Thus, Pittsburgh was able to double-down its efforts and throw all its power at Michalek and Martin. The result: Michalek and Martin will be wearing Penguins sweaters for the next five seasons.

The importance of the Hamhuis trade cannot be underscored. The Penguins were not able to sign Hamhuis, but the deal was a springboard to signing Michalek and Martin. If Pittsburgh hadn’t brought in Hamhuis, then the club would have used precious time and resources to sign him on the first day of free agency, and may have missed out on Michalek or Martin, or both.

It looks like giving up a third-round pick in exchange for adding two long-term cornerstones to the defense is a BIG win for Shero and the Pens.
 
 
 
 
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