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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ray Shero: Best of the Best by @ToonsBrian

On May 25, 2006, Ray Shero replaced the legendary Craig Patrick as GM of the Penguins and has proven to be nothing short of magnificent ever since. To be fair, 2006 may not have been a banner year, in terms of veteran General Manager. But bringing in defenseman Mark Eaton and forwards Mark Recchi and Jarko Ruutu as free agents showed that the rookie had a feel for what the young team, loaded with talent, needed.

This week, Shero was named a finalist for the NHL’s GM of the Year award along with Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin, and Anaheim’s Bob Murray. To celebrate that accomplishment, I thought I would take a look at what I perceive to be the Top 5 Transactions by Mr. Shero.

#5 – The Bylsma Experiment
Most fans over the age of 21 probably remember the day head coach Michel Therrien was relieved of his duties and replaced by that coach up in Wilkes-Barre. You know the guy.

The Pens were coming off a 2008 campaign that resulted in the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance since their 1992 Cup victory. Many media types suggested that losing to the Red Wings was necessary for the growth of the young team. The Pens were declared early favorites to represent the East again in 2009. Yet they floundered and come mid-February, it was clear a change was needed.

Ray Shero turned to Michigan native Dan Bylsma on an interim basis. Bylsma took that team, whose playoff chances were bleak, and completely reversed its fortunes. 40 points in 25 games (an 18-3-4 record) ensured that the Pens would make the playoffs. And the rest, as they say is history.

#4 – Jordan Staal
One of Ray Shero’s first acts as General Manager was to draft former Penguin Jordan Staal second overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Based on Jordan’s performance as a Penguin, it would be easy to stop with that and say “Well done, Mr. Shero. Well done.”

Jordan Staal was an intricate piece of the team’s success for the entirety of his stay in Pittsburgh. However, at the 2012 NHL Draft, Staal was entering the final year of a contract, a year which would end in him becoming an unrestricted free agent and, presumably, heading to Carolina. Given that situation, Shero bit the bullet.

You don’t replace Gronk. But by simply asking Carolina what having Jordan a year early would be worth, he was able to secure the services of a slightly comparable Brandon Sutter, prospect defenseman Brian Dumoulin and Carolina’s 1st round pick (8th overall).

#3 – The Real Steal
Defenseman Alex Goligoski was considered by many to be another Kris Letang. Minus the hair. And blazing speed. He was an offensive defenseman for an offensive team. He was a rising star.

In late February of 2011 Goligoski was sent to Dallas. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk was willing – or was it coerced – into giving up stay-at-home defenseman Matt Niskanen and forward James Neal in what is one of the more lopsided two-for-one trades in recent history. An article about a GM is really not the proper place to discuss stats, but Nisky and Neal’s –nicknamed “The Real Deal” for a number of reasons – combined 162 points since that trade have far outperformed Goligoski’s 72.  It’s not even close.

But what makes this deal so important is what it’s done for another player: Evgeni Malkin. Malkin and Sidney Crosby had suffered a similar fate since entering the league and occupying the same roster. That problem was how to make that much talent work in an efficient manner. The acquisition of Neal gave Malkin a steady line mate that could score. Having Neal in the lineup adds an aspect to Malkin’s game that was missing prior to him arriving in Pittsburgh. And it paid off for Malkin in the form of hardware. Lots and lots of hardware.

#2 – All In
In this lockout-shortened season, Pittsburgh was considered a favorite to go deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the start. Midway through the season, the Pens looked to be delivering on that promise. Enter the Shero.

Remember that 8th overall pick that Shero got in exchange for Jordan Staal? With that pick, Pittsburgh selected defenseman Derrick Pouliot. Later that round, with the team’s own 1st round pick, Olli Maatta, another defenseman. The Penguins had used that first round to bolster an already deep defensive prospect corps and set the stage for perhaps the most impressive trade runs in NHL history. It’s all still fresh, so allow me to summarize:

[] Morrow for Morrow
[] Murray for peanuts
[] Iginla for a near-mint Charizard
[] Jussi Jokinen just for laughs

Add these players to an average team and it becomes formidable. At a cost of ZERO roster players, Shero added them to a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Kris Letang…..

#1 – The Hossa Deal
The fashionable thing today seems to be calling the 2008 trade deadline “The Dupuis Trade.” Make no mistake, though. This was the Marian Hossa Deal.

At the time, the price seemed extremely high, particularly for a rental player. The Pens gave up Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, heavily touted prospect Angelo Esposito and their 1st round pick. All Atlanta had to do was send Marian Hossa and penalty-killer Pascal Dupuis. It was a deal that Craig Patrick never would have made. But Ray Shero is not Craig Patrick.

This trade was huge for the organization on a number of levels. Marian Hossa arriving in Pittsburgh showed fans that management was finally willing to invest in the team. Sidney Crosby now had a legit goal scoring line mate. The Cup was once again within reach. We, as fans, could put the X-Generation behind us for good.

This line lasted a Kardash. Photo: totalprosports.com
Even Hossa’s departure – following a Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit – worked out well for Pittsburgh. The team got to exact revenge on the Red Wings the next season, winning the Cup in 6 games. That victory was made all the sweeter given that Hossa signed with those very Red Wings citing the team’s “better chance” of winning it all. Whether or not, Hossa’s comments were meant as a parting shot is irrelevant.

Either way, with a few phone calls to Atlanta in 2008, Ray Shero fundamentally altered the landscape of the Pittsburgh Penguins for years to come. That day was the day that “In Shero We Trust” came into being.

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