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Starkey: Pierre McGuire, anyone?

| Monday, June 2, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

I've known Pierre McGuire for 18 years. We wrote a Sunday hockey column together for this very publication in the early 2000s.

I like Pierre. I think he's extremely bright. Some fans might view him as a cartoon character — the bald guy who stands between the benches for NBC — but he is far more complex.

His mentor, Scotty Bowman, is right when he says Pierre is well connected at every level of the sport and has long possessed an encyclopedic, first-hand knowledge of prospects world-wide.

“That information never leaves you,” Bowman was telling me the other day. “It's information you have in your pocket that some people don't have. You have to know those players, because players who are good between 16 and 20 continue to be good between 20 and 30.”

Pierre has friends and enemies in the game. That is normal when you've been navigating the NHL's shark-infested waters as long as he has. He knows everybody. He's a legendary schmoozer.

Do I think he's the right person to replace Ray Shero as Penguins general manager?

Wow. That is a question I never dreamed we'd be pondering. Pierre is the talk of the town in the wake of his second interview with Penguins brass, including co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, this past weekend.

As early as Tuesday, the Penguins could name a GM.

What if it's Pierre?

I am of two minds. One says, “Bad idea, PR nightmare.” The other says, “Why not?”

Perhaps unfairly, I tend to view Pierre the way I viewed Russ Grimm when he was after the Steelers coaching job. Both seem more like the guy who buys you a beer and talks about the organization rather than the guy actually leading it.

Pierre is a media guy. Has been for a long time. He's one of us!

He also has a pleasantly quirky personality that could lead one to believe he is more suited for court jester than king. He was conferred with real power once — as Hartford Whalers coach 20 years ago — and lasted only six months, albeit in a horribly dysfunctional organization.

Pierre was only 32 then, fresh off winning two Cups as a Penguins scout and assistant coach. A man can change in 20 years.

But you have to cringe when you look back at what Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs wrote at the time:

“McGuire never had been a head coach at any level. And it showed. He is book smart and X's and O's smart but often not people smart. When a young man is so headstrong, so emotional, so calculating, such a control freak, so full of ambition and so full of himself, he will either rocket to the top or crash.”

He crashed, all right. But it's worth noting that Pierre's ambition, talent and work ethic rocketed him to the top of the vicious hockey broadcasting world in a very short time.

Just as Pierre never had been a coach before Hartford, he never has been a GM or assistant GM. That doesn't have to be a deal breaker. But it sure stands out.

So that's the healthy cynical side.

The “why not?” part starts with the fact that Bowman, owner of 13 Stanley Cup rings, is Pierre's strongest supporter.

Sorry, but I have to listen when the greatest winner in hockey history talks.

It was Bowman who spotted something in Pierre — then an assistant at St. Lawrence — and brought him to the Penguins as a special scout. Together, they did the final scouting on Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson in 1991 before the biggest trade in Penguins history.

Pierre ran the defense for Bowman's '92 Cup winner and played a role in the acquisition of Rick Tocchet that season.

Bowman believes talent evaluation is a GM's critical trait.

“I want the guy to have a knowledge of the talent pool, not only in the NHL but in the amateur ranks,” he said. “My son in Chicago (Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman) loves to go watch hockey. You can get people to work your cap, but you have to see the talent yourself because a lot of times you have to make that final call.”

This I know: Pierre would be unafraid. He would effect immediate and significant change. He would approach the job with a certain ruthlessness, the way he appraised Evgeni Malkin after a November game in New York.

“Evgeni Malkin did not compete hard enough,” Pierre told me later in a radio interview. “You can't massage it.”

As for identifying a coach, who has had a better view of how coaches operate than Pierre over the past several years?

“He has a plan. He was telling me about it,” Bowman said. “It's unfortunate. He came very close (to the GM job) in Tampa, very close in Montreal. They have tremendous expectations (in Pittsburgh). They just need someone to pull it all together.”

Will that someone be Pierre McGuire?

If it is, I'll be certain of only this: He (and the Penguins) either would rocket to the top or crash.

There would be no in-between.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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