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After firing GM Shero, Penguins admit regret in not making change earlier

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Chief Executive Officer and President of the Penguins David Morehouse speaks to the media about Ray Shero beeing relieved of his duties as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday, May 16, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

Regretting not changing course a year ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday made it official, firing General Manager Ray Shero.

However, instead of an organizational overhaul in the aftermath of a fifth consecutive postseason without a return to the Stanley Cup Final, ownership opted to retain head coach Dan Bylsma.

The next general manager will be responsible for evaluating the Penguins' hockey personnel and determining the future of Bylsma and his assistant coaches, CEO David Morehouse said during a news conference at Consol Energy Center.

Majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle said Shero's tenure ended, in part, because the Penguins became a team that “lacked grit and character.”

That looked especially true when they were swept by the Boston Bruins last postseason and blew a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers this postseason.

“So if we're disappointed, it's that we lost a year to the change that we should have made already,” Burkle told the Tribune-Review.

Morehouse said the franchise is not undergoing “a complete overhaul.”

Shero, 51, spent eight seasons with the Penguins. His teams always qualified for the playoffs and reached the Stanley Cup Final twice, winning it in 2009.

He built a reputation for making bold moves — notably for wingers Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin and Jarome Iginla at the NHL trade deadline — and fostering a family atmosphere that players enjoyed.

“Ray is a good man,” Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

However, Shero's teams reached only one Eastern Conference final in five seasons since the Cup win. He had two years remaining on a contract that paid him about $3 million annually.

Shero did not return phone calls or texts and declined to comment through vice president of communications Tom McMillan.

Jason Botterill, who served as assistant general manager under Shero, was elevated to interim GM. He is a candidate to take the job on a full-time basis, Morehouse said.

Botterill, 37, was given permission by the Penguins to interview for the Buffalo Sabres' general manager post during the regular season. However, he never formally interviewed.

Botterill is the Penguins' lead contract negotiator and manages the team's salary cap. He handles personnel moves for AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and assists on amateur and professional scouting.

Tom Fitzgerald, who oversees the player development as assistant to the general manager, was retained.

For now, Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden have kept their jobs. All received two-year extensions in June. Jacques Martin, an assistant coach hired before the start of this past season, and goalie coach Mike Bales also were retained.

Bylsma, 43, will remain under consideration to keep his job, Morehouse said. Ownership said it was united in keeping the coach and firing Shero.

“If Dan was fired, he'd get a job tomorrow,” Lemieux said.

Morehouse offered no time frame to name a general manager or parameters for the position.

Recently, some NHL teams have transitioned away from traditional setups with general managers holding autonomy regarding personnel. Shero, for instance, had a clause in his contract that stipulated he had the final say on trades and acquisitions.

Patrick Roy, a former Hall of Fame goalie, is the Colorado Avalanche's head coach and vice president of hockey operations. He partners with executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic, another former Hall of Famer, in making personnel decisions. General Manager Greg Sherman focuses on contract negotiations.

The Toronto Maple Leafs recently hired Brendan Shanahan, a former NHL executive and Hall of Fame player, as team president. General Manager Dave Nonis has a contractual clause that gives him final say over personnel matters, but he has referred to Shanahan as “my boss” on that subject.

The Penguins will have no shortage of candidates, Morehouse predicted. He said the organization would take a “systematic” approach to the process and noted that Botterill can spearhead preparations for the NHL Entry Draft on June 27 and 28.

“We aren't saying, ‘We need this type of guy,' ” Morehouse said. “We're open-minded.”

Rob Rossi and Dejan Kovacevic are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach them at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib and dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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