After a disappointing first round loss in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero took no time during the offseason to address some key needs the team has.
Whether or not the super-aggressive offseason plan Shero followed will be to the benefit of the team moving forward is yet to be seen. For the most part, however, it seems like he has made the right moves on paper.
The first move that had to be made—after the Penguins were eliminated in six games by their rival Philadelphia Flyers—was to shore up their goaltending.
Although not all the blame can be placed on Marc-Andre Fleury, there was an astonishing amount of goals that were scored on him in that playoff series against the Flyers.
This signing in the offseason by the Penguins does not mean that Fleury will be losing his No. 1 spot between the pipes or having to split time evenly with Vokoun. Fleury is still the go to guy for the Penguins. Should Fleury need to rest, or have a game off to get his focus back, the Penguins will now have a very good goalie to step in for those circumstances.
Vokoun will also push Fleury to get to the top of his game. Even though the No. 1 spot is Fleury's to lose, that is not to say that Vokoun will not be trying to obtain it.
This was a very good signing by Ray Shero to settle any problems that could arise in the crease. You have your No. 1 set, but you also know you have a proven goalie to back him up and push Fleury when need be.
Also, the Penguins may now possess the best two goalies on any team in the league once the 2013 season gets under way.
Shero further reinforced this after they signed Vokoun back on June fourth, reported Michelle Crechiolo and Sam Kasan of the Pittsburgh Penguins website:
"We still believe in Marc-Andre Fleury. He's one of the better goalies in the league," Shero said. "But the position is demanding, both physically and mentally. If you can get a quality guy like this that has a track record like Tomas has, mentally it will give Marc a break, but it also challenges him. It challenges Tomas as well. This is the best goaltending tandem we've had in a long time."
After solving any discrepancies in the Penguins net, GM Shero then moved on to the forwards where he was able to make two huge moves.
One of these was a trade that involved former Penguin Jordan Staal. Although Staal is a great player and was a huge benefit to the Penguins' third line, there was no room for him in Pittsburgh. With Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby above him on the centre depth chart and as much as Staal was able to help the team, he had run his course with the Penguins.
Shero offered Staal what he could, which included a ten-year contract extension, but in the end, it seemed like a move was inevitable.
Staal wanted more ice time—first line time—and that was just not going to be available in Pittsburgh. Moving to Carolina he will also be able to play with his brother.
The deal itself was a good move for the Penguins and you have to give credit to Shero for being able to pull it off. The key piece to the deal will be Brandon Sutter, as Shero tells Michelle Crechiolo of the Pittsburgh Penguins website:
"Brandon was the key to the deal for us," Shero said. "An NHL-ready Brandon Sutter is a proven player in the league. We love his character. We love what he brings."
Although he will not quite be able to fill the shoes of Jordan Staal at the very moment, he will be able to do exactly what is expected of a third line center. He is responsible in both ends of the ice, especially in his own defensive end, and can still contribute in the point department as well.
Give him a few years and he will develop into a very good two-way centermen. Then you have to throw in the other talent that Pittsburgh gains in the deal and you have to think that it was a no-brainer for Shero to pull the trigger.
Where do the Penguins finish the 2013 regular season in the Eastern Conference?
Another easy decision that GM Ray Shero had to make during the offseason was making sure to settle the contract extension for Sidney Crosby. He was due to become a free agent after the 2013 season, but Shero was able to lock up the Penguins captain and face of the franchise for the next 12 years.
Crosby is now signed with the Penguins until the 2024-25 season and will make 104.4 million dollars over that time span. The average annual value (AAV) will be 8.7 million dollars. GM Ray Shero said that that number was important for Crosby, as reported by Sam Kasan of the Pittsburgh Penguins website:
"The balancing act was trying to find a contract that paid Sidney Crosby accordingly, but as Sid always says to me and he said again, 'How does this help the team? How can I help the team?'" Shero said. "From a manager's standpoint the AAV is always important. Near the end he came back and said this AAV is what he wanted. He's never been reluctant to help the team out like that. We appreciate it. Ownership appreciates that. It says a lot about Crosby."
It may seem a little aggressive to sign Crosby to such a long term deal for so much money, considering the injury problems that have been surrounding him. In the end however, it is something you just have to do.
Crosby's battle with concussions and post-concussion syndrome are well noted. He was only able to lace them up for 22 games last season and play the entire first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
If everything goes as planned, he should have everything completely cleared up by the start of the 2013 season and Crosby should be his old self again. That would mean that a deal of this calibre is well worth it. Let's not forget, Crosby is the best player in the game today and can completely take over and dominate night in and night out.
He is the face of the Penguins and the face of the NHL. Ray Shero is not going to risk not settling on a contract with Sidney Crosby. Even with the chance that another big hit could end his career, everything he has done for the Penguins over his short career warrants a long term deal with that amount of money involved.
Sidney Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, made it very clear that Crosby will be back in full force come next year, as told by Sam Kasan of the Pittsburgh Penguins website:
"He's been training in Los Angeles. He's feeling great," Brisson said. "Since he came back at the end of the regular season and playoffs he felt really good. He's been training hard and feeling really well. Compared to last summer it's been night and day, very encouraging."
It looks like a deal to sign Crosby for life will be a good move by Shero. If his star player can put a full year together, then there is no questioning what Crosby will bring to the Penguins both on and off the ice.
The moves that Ray Shero made during this offseason were ones that needed to be done. He did not do them for nothing, but rather thought them nicely through and made the right choices in who to bring in, who to trade, and who to demand for.
The acquisition of Tomas Vokoun can only help the depth at the goaltender position, and also give Fleury some pressure to earn his time with solid play.
The trade that sent Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes was going to happen, so for Shero to hold off and wait to make sure that Brandon Sutter was included in the deal was genius. Now he has a dependable two-way centre to fill that third line role, and Sutter is still a player with tremendous upside.
As for the Crosby extension, even with his injury and the negative possibilities that are associated with it, there is no way you would even blink an eye at trying to lock him up for the rest of his career.
All in all, the deals that Shero made during the offseason were ones that were pretty aggressive. Only once the 2013 season roles around, however, and the Penguins begin their campaign, will we know if the route he took was the right one.
For now however, as the situation stands it would seem like he has made some very good moves that should not only benefit the Penguins now, but also in years to come.