Ray Shero is out as GM in Pittsburgh. What bold decisions defined his legacy? Here’s a summary of his five best and worst moves with the Penguins.
First things first, a disclaimer: as far as we know at THN, Ray Shero is indeed still fired as Pittsburgh GM. Can’t say the same for the unsinkable Dan Bylsma. We reserve the right to revoke this list if the Penguins unfire Shero.
It’s been almost eight years to the day since the Pens hired Shero as GM. He had a fantastic run, punctuated by some bold moves, a few blunders and the 2009 Stanley Cup. Should Pittsburgh ownership have fired him before the coach, or had Shero accomplished enough to earn a stern warning and one more chance? I’ll let this summary of his five best and worst transactions spark the discussion.
SHERO’S FIVE BEST MOVES
1. Acquiring James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski (2011)
This deal was a coup the day it happened. The Stars were desperate for a defenseman to build around and overpaid for Goligoski, who has become a reliable minutes muncher but hardly a franchise defenseman. Even before this season’s breakout, Niskanen became a capable top-four blueliner for Pittsburgh. Neal, despite his disciplinary problems, has given the Pens several seasons of lethal goal scoring. I don’t buy the he’s-only-good-because-of-his-linemates argument. The day Dallas dealt Neal, he already had three 20-goal seasons to his name before the age of 25. He was a valuable commodity then. That’s why Shero was a genius to pull this trade off.
2. Acquiring Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis for, um, you better sit down (2008)
It was one of the wildest, latest-breaking blockbusters in trade deadline history. Shero nabbed Hossa from the Atlanta Thrasers, plus Pascal Dupuis, for Colby Armstrong (meh), Angelo Esposito (woof) and a first-round pick that became Daultan Leiveille (good God). The minute Hossa and Dupuis took the ice in Pittsburgh, they each played one more game as a Penguin than Leveille ever played in the NHL. Hossa helped the Pens reach Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final and Dupuis became Sidney Crosby’s running mate.
3. Replacing coach Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma mid-season (2009)
Evidently, Shero studied Lou Lamoriello’s Robbie Ftorek/Larry Robinson file before making this stunning decision, though Shero wasn’t tampering with a first-place team in his case. Therrien had shepherded Pittsburgh to the final the previous spring, but the Pens sputtered to a 27-25-5 record and found themselves out of a playoff spot. Bylsma made the leap from the American League, the Pens went 18-3-4 and they went on to win the Cup.
4. The Chris Kunitz/Ryan Whitney trade (2009)
This was a gutsy move. Ryan Whitney was having a rough season, slow to recover from a foot injury, but he was a first-round pick, still young and highly regarded as a puck-moving blueliner. He had four years left on his deal at a reasonable $4-million cap hit, too. But Shero, rarely afraid to change things up at or near the deadline, addressed a team need at the wing by bringing in Kunitz from Anaheim, where he’d already won a Cup. Kunitz and Whitney’s careers veered in opposite directions after this deal, which also brought Eric Tangradi to Steeltown.
5. Bringing in Bill Guerin at the trade deadline (2009)
It wasn’t simply the affordable price Shero paid (a third-round pick), nor was it Guerin’s useful offensive contribution (15 points in 24 playoff games), that made this deal vital to the Pens’ Cup run. Guerin was lauded for loosening up Pittsburgh’s dressing room with his humor and love of the game.
SHERO’S FIVE WORST MOVES
1. Failing to address his backup goaltending (2014)
When Fleury struggled in last year’s playoffs, the Pens turned to Tomas Vokoun. This year, even though Shero knew Vokoun’s blood clots made him a long shot to rejoin the lineup, Shero stood pat on goaltending – in a season when Ilya Bryzgalov, Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller and plenty of other netminders were sold off by their teams. The Penguins didn’t have a proven vet to spell Fleury when his game went south in the 2014 playoffs. It was a major reason for their undoing – and Shero’s.
2. Kris Letang’s gargantuan contract extension (2013)
There was no denying Letang’s talent, but his defensive inconsistency was a question mark before he signed a massive extension last summer. So was his health, and that was long before he suffered a stroke this year. To lock him up at $7.25 million per season through 2021-22 – more than every D-man in the league except Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – was a massive risk the day it happened, regardless of what’s transpired with Letang’s health since, as he already had a long injury history.
3. Not signing Rob Scuderi (2009)
Scuderi, master of the shot block, was the heart and soul of Pittsburgh’s defense during their Cup run. The blueline lacked the same teeth after he left for L.A., where he won another championship.
4. Signing Rob Scuderi (2013)
You can’t right a wrong by bringing back a player when said player has four extra seasons of mileage on his body, including 50 playoff games as a King. Scuderi was not the same guy this season, more than a step slow at 35. He didn’t respond well even when Dan Bylsma insulated him from tough matchups. Scuderi had the 306th-best Corsi rating in the NHL relative to quality of competition.
5. Acquiring Doug Murray at the deadline (2013)
Shero surrendered second-round picks in 2013 and 2014 to rent Murray, a mean presence but a slow and ultimately temporary one. Was it not telling that the Sharks, a playoff contender at the time, were willing to move the veteran D-man for futures? They deemed him expendable as a pending UFA.
– Fleury haters may point to the star-crossed goalie’s seven-year, $35-million contract as a Shero blunder, but I won’t. Fleury signed it in 2008, when he was 23 and fresh off a Cup final. He helped them win it all the next year. The contract only took on water in the last couple seasons, and Fleury mixed plenty of good performances in with the bad.
– No Jordan Staal trade, either. Brandon Sutter has been a downgrade as a No. 3 center, but Shero did offer Staal a 10-year deal. The Pens also received Brian Dumoulin and a first-round pick that became Derrick Pouliot. If the latter becomes a star, Shero makes out like a bandit here.
The most telling things about this list: (a) the best moves appear to trump the worst moves, but (b) note the years Shero made the bad moves.
What say you of the list? Any glaring misses? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin