Penguins fire general manager Shero
The Penguins are getting a new hockey boss. He will have a clear idea of the franchise's power structure.
“Our owners are the boss,” CEO David Morehouse said Friday after he announced the firing of general manager Ray Shero.
The Penguins are owned by a group of investors, but the majority shares belong to Ron Burkle, a billionaire businessman, and Mario Lemieux, the franchise's greatest player. Burkle has the biggest financial stake, though specifics are not known.
Neither majority co-owner wants to dabble in hockey decisions, Morehouse said. However, neither was pleased with the direction of the hockey side of the franchise.
The Penguins' recent playoff failures, lack of toughness and overspending on an aging roster were cited as reasons for Shero's dismissal, Lemieux and Burkle told the Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic.
Lemieux and Burkle agreed the scene Friday at Consol Energy Center could have looked strange to outsiders. Instead of firing Shero and coach Dan Bylsma, Morehouse announced that a new general manager would determine whether Bylsma and his assistants should be back.
“Just because someone makes a clean sweep doesn't make something right,” Burkle said.
What's not right, Morehouse said, is the notion he interfered with hockey decisions made by Shero, who had written into his contract a clause giving him control over hockey operations.
Morehouse said he never overruled a proposed trade or chimed in on a personnel move during his “almost daily” conversations with Shero, who was fired with two years remaining on his contract.
Morehouse described Friday morning as “the hardest day I've had” since joining the organization as a consultant in 2004.
“We have a relationship. This isn't easy,” Morehouse said. “It's not fun, but it's necessary. If you haven't achieved your goals, you need to look hard at why and make the adjustments.
“Ownership decided this was the adjustment they wanted to start with.”
The Penguins' board of directors meets quarterly. Lemieux, Burkle and Morehouse are in those meetings. Shero was, too, and so will the next general manager, Morehouse said.
Only Morehouse reports directly to Burkle and Lemieux. He sees the latter more because Lemieux lives in Pittsburgh, but Morehouse said he probably has more conversations — mostly via email — with Burkle, who has houses in Beverly Hills, Calif., New York and London.
The Penguins' next general manager will report to Morehouse, who believes a team CEO is allowed to have a say in hockey decisions. However, Morehouse said he doesn't want to make the hockey decisions.
A former political campaign strategist, Morehouse said he is better suited for the business of the Penguins.
He was promoted to president in April 2007 and CEO in September 2010, and he has emerged as one of the more progressive voices among NHL executives, league chief operating officer John Collins said in November.
Morehouse hated the recent NHL lockout. He supports the league's events-based strategy to promote multiple outdoor games, the annual draft and the Awards Show in Las Vegas. He also has challenged the league to promote youth hockey in all markets as the Penguins have in Western Pennsylvania.
The Penguins have upgraded the bandwidth at Consol Energy Center several times since it opened in 2010, Collins said, because Morehouse wants paying customers to be able to make use of smartphone technology. Two years ago, Morehouse pushed for the Penguins to become only the second NHL team to travel with a physician.
“David is very interested in what's next,” Collins said. “He's not somebody that is stuck on one way of doing things.”
Morehouse suggested there is no template for the duties of the next general manger, whether it is assistant-turned-interim Jason Botterill or somebody from a group Morehouse, Lemieux and Burkle plan to interview over the next few weeks.
“The league is slowly changing when it comes to franchise operations,” said Craig Button, an NHL Network analyst and former general manager with Calgary. “You're trying to find any way to gain an edge. But I also think the job is getting too big and layered. It's a lot for one person.”
Colorado has a general manager who handles contracts and the salary cap, leaving player personnel decisions to coach Patrick Roy and top executive Joe Sakic. Toronto hired former league executive Brendan Shanahan to work with general manager Dave Nonis.
The Penguins' next general manager might not emerge as Shero did. He was a longtime assistant in Ottawa and Nashville who picked Pittsburgh over Boston eight years ago because he craved autonomy.
With an ownership that spends annually to the salary cap and believes its core, led by franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, needs supplemented but not overhauled, anything seems possible regarding the Penguins' next boss.
He might even already be the boss of a current club.
Montreal's Marc Bergevin has a best friend surnamed Lemieux.
Money is no issue for a billionaire such as Burkle. Lemieux's name opens a lot of doors. Crosby and Malkin are attractive selling points. Morehouse believes in bold moves.
“We're going to talk to a lot of different types of people and a lot of different GM candidates with a lot of different levels of experience,” Morehouse said. “And through that process, we'll then decide what the best fit is.”