Penguin Notes: Seven Thoughts On Shero, plus “Lick The Ice Cream Lid, Mario Lemieux”

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By John Toperzer

Shero was fearless. If he thought the Penguins had a shot then he’d orchestrate whatever trade he thought necessary to put them over the top. Pittsburgh pretty much shocked the hockey world by pulling off a trade for Marian Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis). The move would set the pace for Shero’s willingness to go for the Stanley Cup – draft picks be damned.

How could hockey fans not love someone like this? Shero was making trades even arm-chair quarterbacks never dreamed of. The phrase “In Shero We Trust” originated shortly thereafter.

Shero was loyal.
The Penguins GM believed in coach Dan Bylsma. He had to go to bat for Bylsma at least once. How else can anyone explain management keeping Bylsma after yet another postseason run during which the team scored two goals in a four-game sweep at the hands of Boston in 2012-13?

Even though the organization didn’t have the type of players necessary for the ideal Bylsma system – young with boundless energy, pressing play at every opportunity – Shero decided to add assistant Jacques Martin to help with a lacking defense rather than can Bylsma.

Shero was shrewd. If he wasn’t the smartest man in the room, then he was close to it. You’d think fellow GMs might take a step back and think about things after the Hossa trade, but Shero found another victim in Dallas GM, Joe Nieuwendyk. The Penguins traded Alex Goligoski for both James Neal and Matt Niskanen. Neal was thought to be the best player of the three shortly after the time of the deal and now Niskanen might be the most valuable.

Shero was not a draft savant. We should have planned for things to come when the Penguins selected Jordan Staal over Jonathan Toews. Staal won a Cup with Pittsburgh, so that move can’t be described as all bad. Still, Shero’s decision to take defensemen after defensemen left the organization so strapped for forwards that summer rookie camps seemed to feature more blueliners than centers and wingers.

In 2012, the Pens took Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta – both defensemen, both in the first round. If defenders were few and far between, the strategy would make loads of sense. However, 15 of the 30 picks in Round 1 where blueliners and the Pens already had their fair share in the system.

Shero was better at acquiring talent than implementing and executing it. He traded for the most popular commodity on the market a season ago in Jarome Iginla, sending a pair of middling prospects and a No. 1 pick to Calgary. Iginla had said he’d like to play with Sidney Crosby and even vetoed a prior deal to the Bruins so that he could suit up with Sid. That’s where the feel-good portion of the Iginla Era mostly came to an end.

Perhaps as part of his hands off approach, Shero allowed his coach to continue playing Iginla at left wing, even though he looked like a fish out of water. The future HOFer scored 30 goals and 61 points in 78 games as a right winger for Boston in 2013-14.

Shero was in a double-edged sword position when he took over for GM Craig Patrick. On one hand, he had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin dropped in his lap. It would be hard to mess up an organization with a 19-year-old Sid and a 20-year-old Geno at the disposal. At the same time, losing one or both players puts a strain on a team, given the upper-end salaries colliding with the salary cap. There’s not much swaggle room to play around with when four of your contracts (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury) represent almost half of the payroll.

Crosby and Malkin both got hurt and missed considerable time after the 2008-09 Stanley Cup team. That’s production teams can’t just go out and easily replace.

Shero will land on his feet. He could take over for Gary Bettman as the NHL commissioner and no one would bat an eye. Heck, he could probably do the same for MLB’s departing commish, Bud Selig.

**

Penguins announcer, Mike Lange, recently appeared on 93.7 the Fan in Pittsburgh, asking for new goal sayings.

In case you forgot, Lange is noted for coining catchy phrases such as “Michael, Michael, motorcycle” and “Lookout, Loretta” among many examples.

Here’s mine. Drumroll …

“Lick the ice cream lid!” or “Lick the ice cream lid, Mario Lemieux!”

Tweet me yours @JohnToperzer

**

Links ‘n At

How’s This For A Front Office Team?, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari.

Whether Fenton could capably execute the contract-signings facet of a GM’s job isn’t clear, but if the Penguins would hire him, there would be an easy solution: Give Botterill a decent raise and an upgraded title – make him, say, associate GM, rather than assistant – to convince him to stay with the organization, even though he would have lost out to Fenton for the GM job.

30 Thoughts: Cap Increase Won’t Ease Penguins’ Dilemma, by Elliotte Friedman.

The current 2014-15 cap hit rankings for Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million US), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) and Kris Letang ($7.25 million). While attending Game 2 of the Montreal/Boston playoff series, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the “rough estimate” of next year’s ceiling is between $69-70 million.

Letang and Malkin’s extensions — which kick in next season — will eat slightly more than $4 million of whatever jump there is from this year’s $64.3 million limit. Those three players could combine for 35 per cent of Pittsburgh’s space.

Even as the cap rose from its initial $39 million in 2005-06 to almost double that now (with some teams predicting even higher numbers), you don’t see many situations with Pittsburgh’s upcoming structure.

Mr. Friedman also added the following notes in his most recent 30 Thoughts.

20. I’m not sure if the Penguins have asked for permission to speak to the Rangers’ Jeff Gorton, but the answer could reveal a few things. Whenever Glen Sather decides it is time, the belief is his replacement as Rangers GM will come from within (though Sather has denied on at least two occasions that he’s stepping down after the season). The three possibilities are Gorton, Doug Risebrough and Jim Schoenfeld.

21. There’s doubt that Risebrough would want to do the job, as he is happy with his current role. That leaves Gorton and Schoenfeld. If it is Gorton, would the Rangers clarify his future to prevent his potential loss?

22. One team president’s theory on Pittsburgh and head coach Dan Bylsma: “In the real world, an owner hires someone at the top who makes decisions on everyone else. I’d bet that’s what [Penguins owner] Ron Burkle is doing.” I’ll say the same thing I say about all of these openings: ‘Make it quick. Don’t let people hang.’

Who Is Going To Overpay For Matt Niskanen?”, by Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson.

Sixty-one percent of poll respondents (at the end of the article) say Niskanen’s cap hit will be $5 million or less. I’ll take the over on that bet.

Yohe: A Look At The Blue Line, Goaltenders”, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Perhaps a new GM won’t think highly of Fleury and will want to trade him? Could it happen? I suppose a lot of things could happen this summer. But Fleury proved a lot of people wrong last season. My hunch is that he stays for quite some time.

I think it’s time to move on from the Flower. He overcame his playoff demons this spring, but sometimes its just better for all parties to start fresh. Some of the best goalies have come from unlikely places, and after Fleury’s contract ends next season, the team is well positioned to look elsewhere.

**

Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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