One of the questions that Penguins GM Ray Shero had to field most often this past summer was "Are you bringing Billy Guerin back?" Guerin had become a local folk hero of sorts in the Penguins march to the Stanley Cup in 2009 but was a free agent following last year's early playoff exit.
Shero never came out and said it in part because of the respect that Guerin had earned, but the team had moved on. Coaches and scouts had come to the conclusion that at age 39 Guerin was running on empty through the second half of last season and didn't fit a team in real need of scoring from its wingers.
Guerin spent the summer looking for work and agreed to a tryout with the Philadelphia Flyers. But the Pens judgment on him now seems spot on after he posted a single goal and was a horrid minus-four in a shellacking by the Buffalo Sabres the other night.
This morning the Flyers released Guerin.
Up in Toronto the guy who Pens fans worried most about losing got some bad news as well. Luca Caputi was shipped to the AHL this morning by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The former fourth round draft choice had been dealt north of the border at the trade deadline for winger Alexei Ponikarovsky who turned out to be one of the largest busts in Shero's tenure.
The big winger scored twice in 16 regular season games and only once in the playoffs for the Pens in 2010. So bad was his performance that Ponikarovsky spent most of the summer looking for work before landing in Los Angeles.
Caputi was a bright star in the Pens minor league system and seemed to be ticketed for a shot at a top six forward job had he remained on. Brief glimpses of his hands led Pens fans to believe that the future was bright here for the 22 year old, but he was shipped off to a team where Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal weren't standing in his way, and yet he still not make the opening night roster.
The other notable departure from Mario Lemieux Place, Sergei Gonchar, may or may not prove Shero's shrewdness. The 35 year old is fitting in well in Ottawa and as expected is quarterbacking the team's power play. Gonchar's departure had more to do with salary cap issues and the third year of a contract rather than his play last season. The answer here might lie as much as three years in the future.
Shero saw enough of Hal Gill slamming the door on his former teammates last spring to know that the Pens didn't have enough on the blue line going forward and spent his money on Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek as a result. He also left himself in a position where as many as eight players could be entering their last season in Pittsburgh because of the big dollars he spent on the blue line.
Taking risks is part of the job description for a GM in the NHL salary cap era. Even Stanley Cup-winning General Managers have to explore every angle. But today's moves elsewhere in the league are just a reminder that even when things don't appear as well as we'd like, Ray Shero seems to be running slightly ahead of the pack.
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