Share This Page

Kovacevic: Time ticking on Penguins' GM

| Thursday, May 29, 2014, 10:17 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang plays against the Red Wings, April, 2014 at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' James Neal plays against the Red Wings, April, 2014 at Consol Energy Center.

Friday marks two full weeks since Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle fired Ray Shero, and if you'll recall, Lemieux told me at the time the Penguins' front office probably would take “a couple weeks” to have a new GM in place.

Well, that clock's ticking, to put it kindly. Because this poor soul, whoever it might be, will have basically a month to set the franchise's course for, oh, the next half-decade or so.

Consider this a checklist for Mr. Mythical New GM:

√ FIRE THE COACH

It's crazier now than then, but Dan Bylsma still holds the title. This, as well as the fate of the rest of Bylsma's staff, will have to come first. As in the very first morning on the job.

√ HIRE A COACH

The pool of retreads isn't deep, but maybe that's for the better. These Penguins need a tough coach. Not a cement-head but someone with a personality to handle this locker room, whether it's the unique needs of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin or the intimidating presences like Craig Adams. Bylsma couldn't. The new guy must.

Rick Tocchet, anyone?

I know he's interested, and we all know he's tough.

√ TRADE KRIS LETANG

I'm not kidding. Letang's limited no-trade clause kicks in July 1. After that, the Penguins will be hard-pressed to move his eight-year, $58 million contract, at least for fair value. I'll take Lemieux's word that the team “signed Kris to keep him,” but I'll also take his word that the new GM will make that call rather than the owners.

It's not just the trade return that would make a difference. The freed-up money would go a long way toward other concerns.

√ JAMES NEAL, TOO

I think a lot of Neal. Always have. And there's a good chance that, if traded, he'll run up another 40-goal season somewhere. But you have to give to get. And this is where you can give. The playoffs have laid bare that the Penguins have too many perimeter scorers rather than — repeat after me — grit-and-character types driving to the net. That's why their power play looks so pretty in the regular season but is reduced to a passing pentagon each spring.

Neal's 26, he's talented, and his remaining contract is attractive at four years, $20 million. He could bring back real quality.

√ SIGN MATT NISKANEN

This must get done. And after that, discuss with the coach sewing a letter on his sweater.

√ WISH BROOKS ORPIK AND JUSSI JOKINEN WELL

Orpik was one of the Penguins' most decorated defensemen, the all-time leader in games at the position. Jokinen was their only real playoff scoring threat. But they're unrestricted free agents like Niskanen, and they shouldn't be brought back. Orpik's place is best taken by a youngster, and Jokinen will be paid more than he's worth.

√ FIRE ALL THE SCOUTS

Wait, what's that?

The NHL Entry Draft is June 27-28?

OK, hold that. Work diligently with all the scouts who have mangled these past eight drafts, have everyone put forth their best effort at the table in Philadelphia … then fire everyone except those who recommended Olli Maatta.

√ HAVE A GREAT DRAFT

Yeah, good luck with that. Those scouts will be super-motivated to earn that severance pay.

√ PICK A NICE OFFICE

And by that I mean an office as far as possible from that of CEO David Morehouse. No disrespect to Morehouse, a superb businessman, but I don't like business overseeing sports decisions. I don't like it with Art Rooney II and the Steelers, nor with Frank Coonelly and the Pirates. The CEO should have input into major transactions such as multiyear extensions that can shake up the bottom line, but that's it.

CREATE A VISION

Between the GM and coach, there will be so much day-to-day work at hand it might happen without a broader scope in mind. That's dangerous.

What is the next generation of Pittsburgh Penguins?

How do they play?

What's the model?

The most successful versions of the Penguins have been supremely skilled. The franchise has been blessed with 15 of the past 26 NHL scoring champs. But there's also been a strong supporting cast of — repeat after me again — grit-and-character types. They were tough in protecting the stars but also in forging their own paths. They didn't just forecheck. They had Bob Errey, Troy Loney or Max Talbot skating through the far wall. They didn't just pokecheck. They had Ulf Samuelsson, Kevin Stevens and Orpik's legendary shift sending opponents into the next century.

So, Mr. Mythical New GM, paint a picture like that. Preferably with a single stroke.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.