When the news reached my ears that the Penguins had locked up GM Ray Shero for the next 5 years I broke into a smile ear to ear. Wasn't quite the double fist pump when the Pens won the Crosby lottery but was perhaps the best reaction to Pens signings over the last few years.
That's not indicative of the signings, which usually get acknowledged with a "sweet" or "eh", but the fact that Shero has proven himself to be one of the best in the NHL and now he'll be in Pittsburgh the next half of a decade
I'll admit, when he first came to Pittsburgh I was skeptical because of his role as a Assistant GM in Nashville and as a fan you always unreasonably expect to be wowed by big names or assume they're not worthy because of who were thought to be bigger names were passed up. And lets face it as fans...we all know we can draft better, pull the trigger on a better trade because...well....it's our team!
Needless to say I was quickly won over by Mr. Shero after he got down to business. Taking Jordan Staal with his first pick as Pens GM raised some concerns with some fans because Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel were left on the board in what is turning out to be one heck of a talented 1st round of a draft, Nick backstrom, Claude Giroux, Kyle Okposo, Erik Johnson and Chris Stewart among other noteables...but I loved it.
"Why take a 3rd center?" people said. Why not? You have 4 lines in Hockey and Pittsburgh is now blessed to have the best 1-3 combination in the league...and they're locked up for the near future thanks to Ray Shero. Nevermind recent history of two trips to the finals, a cup and a Selke nod for his 1st Pens pick....and oh yeah, he added future blueliners Brian Strait and Carl Sneep to that draft as well.
The following year he added Angelo Esposito, who he dealt in a package for Hossa (another great move), C Kevin Veilleux, Robert Bortuzzo, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Luca Caputi (sent to Tor for Ponikorovsky-can't win 'em all), Alex Grant and the late find of Dustin Jeffrey. All players who according to reports are decent to good prospects.
Aside from well regarded picks Simon Despres, Phillip Samuelsson (Ulfs son) and Beau Bennett the picks from 09-10 will have to wait to age for judgement.
All in all, you have to give Mr. Shero extremely high marks to date for restocking the Pens future, that was a little empty when Craig Patrick left, and proving he has an eye for young talent.
Moving on into filling needs via trades or free agent signings, there is no decline in performance. Having the Miro Satan signing, who ended up doing well in Boston...Pittsburgh just wasn't a good fit and Ponikorovsky trade as the only blemishes so far is a heck of a resume.
Taking a look at some of the body of work....
- Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi ( a cup and top prospect, the gift that keeps giving)
- Bill Guerin for a mid round pick (Stanley Cup, leadership, experience),
- Hall Gill for 2 picks (Stanley Cup)
- Colby Armstong, Angelo Esposito and #1 pick (Daultan Leveille) for Hossa and Dupuis (Cup Appearance)
Bringing in Petr Sykora brought some great goals and a cup appearance before age caught up him and let go. Ruslan Fedotenko proved to be a clutch signing for the Cup year and was wisely let go after a bad year. Matt Cooke and the departed Mark Eaton, also Cup contributing additions for Shero.
Signing defenders Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek, as well as forward Mike Comrie, Aaron Asham gives the Penguins a cup or bust mentality for this season....a far cry from the Pirates almost two decades of reaching .500 or bust....sorry had to be said.
Lets put a cherry on top of that.....having the instincts and courage that only top GM's have to replace cup finalist Coach Michel Therrien with a relatively inexperienced Dan Bylsma that infused a refreshing team atmosphere ending with the Pens hoisting their third Cup in franchise history.
The critics will point to the lack of an elite winger for Crosby or Malkin. A stanley cup win should've ended that debate but it hasn't. Frankly, with the money invested in Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Kunitz, Martin, Michalek, Orpik and Fleury there won't be one any time soon without a major trade involving one or more of the previously mentioned players. The only option is to hope for a career year from a current winger or for one to rise up via Wilkes-Barre.
All being said and done, the Penguins have become a perennial threat for the Stanley Cup. Pieces will be needed to be added or removed to keep them there year after year. I'm smiling ear to ear knowing it will be Ray Shero in position to make them.