Kovacevic: Penguins' GM search becoming circus
Pierre McGuire, as this is being typed, is a candidate to be the Penguins' next GM.
And man, that's no fun to type.
I think the world of Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle. Both are immensely successful, impeccably charitable and, most pertinent to this discussion, good stewards of Pittsburgh's beloved NHL franchise. It's easy to have faith in these gentlemen.
But come on, what is this?
What's going on with this GM search that's now dragged three full weeks since Ray Shero's firing and, in all bluntness, is taking on the feel of a full-blown fiasco?
Word's been scarce, but here's what's known:
• The Penguins themselves thought this would be done by now. Lemieux told me “a couple weeks” when I met with him and Burkle after the Shero firing. And late last week, I was informed by the team it would be done “early this week.” Both have passed without so much as a peep from Consol Energy Center.
• An original list of 30 candidates was trimmed to 22, then whacked down to nine. Best as can be determined, those still in the running with mutual interest after all of that are, um, interim GM Jason Botterill and McGuire. More on him in a bit.
• One target all along has been Pat Brisson, a player agent. Note the difference, please, between target and candidate. See, even though an agent should have been disqualified for being an agent, Brisson did his own disqualifying by declaring two weeks ago he'd remain an agent. In spite of that, the Penguins apparently still covet the guy.
• The Penguins are the only team in the league without a GM, and the reality is even more rudderless: The Trib's Rob Rossi has learned they've all but handcuffed Botterill, at least as far as major decisions. Which means it's all autopilot on Matt Niskanen and Kris Letang, the draft, free agency, you name it.
• Dan Bylsma and all his coaches still are in limbo. Don't forget that. They're good men. They don't deserve to be disrespected.
It's getting embarrassing, if it isn't there already.
And yet, none of the above touches the clearly intense involvement of McGuire in this process.
Set aside whatever you think about how he comes across as an NBC commentator — yes, “Brooks Or-PECK,” too — and isolate on his NHL resume: He began as a scout with the Penguins in 1990. A year later, he was an assistant coach and remained so for the Stanley Cups in 1991-92. The next year, he took the same job in Hartford. A year after that, he was assistant GM, then a month later head coach. It was a rapid ascent, but he flamed out just as quickly after going 23-37-7. Pat Verbeek, a winger on that team, famously called his coach's firing “the best thing that could ever have happened to the Whalers.” Moving on to Ottawa, McGuire scouted, then was assistant coach in 1995 until being fired within three months.
Shall I continue?
Sorry, can't. That's it.
McGuire had to bottom-feed with the ECHL for his next job, coaching the Baton Rouge Kingfish to seventh place, then tore up the rest of a three-year contract to try broadcasting.
He quit. He quit hockey. He never again coached, scouted or generally managed anything. He called games, learned names, memorized players' hometowns, dressed nice and shook a whole lot of hands.
I'm going to type this yet again: This could be your next GM, Pittsburgh.
Oh, for real. It isn't by accident that his name has gone public with no response from the Penguins, even behind the scenes. Trust me, given the laughingstock they've become over this across the continent, they'd have quashed this in a heartbeat if motivated. Nor is it by accident that McGuire has felt comfortable discussing the job in radio interviews. In one, he felt bold enough to say Shero “probably didn't deserve to get fired.”
Good stuff, huh?
I'll ask again: What's going on here?
Aren't there any qualified candidates interested in this wonderful opportunity to build around some of the world's top hockey talent?
For now, I'll keep faith in Lemieux, Burkle and Morehouse to see that the prime career points of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin shouldn't be subjected to an experimental, ooh-let's-try-this, Eddie Olczyk-type hire at the top hockey post.
I'll also keep faith that they appreciate the challenge of being a modern GM. He leads the entire hockey operation. He oversees coaches, scouts, salary-cap and transactions managers, team doctors, athletic trainers and more. He has to make decisions on the fly, some that can change the course of a franchise, in dealings with other GMs and agents and often with his own eyes.
The great broadcaster John Davidson left TV a decade ago to become St. Louis' president of hockey operations, the same post he now holds in Columbus. J.D. has enjoyed his share of success, including as an NHL player and evaluator, and he surely could carve any role he wishes. But he hasn't. He's had enough humility to employ a highly qualified GM.
Step into the circle, gentlemen, and do likewise.