Penguins Q&A with general manager Ray Shero
Ray Shero is no stranger to star-gazing. He'll resume that act Wednesday, as the Penguins hit the ice for their first training-camp practice. However, even though superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin anchor the talented young core of a team that came within two wins of the Stanley Cup last season, Shero enters his third camp as general manager betting that skill is not his organization's strength. "Hard work and passion - this organization has to be based on that," Shero said. "I look at us entering camp, and that's what I'm looking for from the start."
Shero spoke last week with Tribune-Review Penguins beat reporter Rob Rossi:
Q: You said in July this team is better than the one that entered training camp last season. How so?
A: Generally, it's the experience factor. We have it now. As I look upon two years ago, losing to Ottawa in the first round (in 2007), we said we wanted to take that experience and use it to our advantage. If you look at what we did in the playoffs last season, we did. You learn a lot going through those playoff series... those (lessons) are big things for our hockey team because we have so many key players at critical positions, including in goal with Marc-Andre Fleury.
Q: What did you learn last year about your core players?
A: They've very resilient, and I didn't just learn that. We've shown that the past two seasons, especially last season with all the injuries and adversity, including the slow start. These players know how to handle tough spots. I look at our game in Ottawa last season on Thanksgiving: We were three games under .500 and down, 0-2, on the road to a team that had the best record in hockey at the time. We won that game, and it was the start of getting it going on the right track. That set a tone. The rest of the season, a lot of our guys were very resilient and stepped up - guys like Chris Minard or Ty Conklin that had to fill in and play 10 or 15 or more games, guys like Evgeni Malkin, who was maybe the best player in the league when Sidney Crosby went down, guys like Brooks Orpik, who was great down the stretch and in the playoffs. Now, I look at the group we have coming back, and a lot of those guys are still here and it's a proud group.
Q: Where does Jordan Staal fit on this roster?
A: We've talked about it internally, and my only thing with the coaches is that where Jordan plays benefits the hockey team. He can play center and left wing, and as he's shown, he can play both well. Does he play 4-on-4, penalty kill and power play• It's up to Jordan, really, to answer that question for us. But we're in a luxury of having him in a lot of positions, and we're confident he'll play well wherever.
Q: Of the core -- Crosby, Malkin, Orpik, Fleury and (injured defenseman) Ryan Whitney -- Staal is the only player without a set long-term contract after this season. Is getting him signed to an extension an immediate priority?
A: It doesn't bother me either way. If we sign him, it's wonderful. And, I think he wants to stay here. But it's not a negative if he doesn't sign this season. With (Whitney and Fleury), it went to the end before we had deals. We'll wait and see how it plays itself out with Jordan. But, honestly, it's not an issue. I'll talk to him when he gets here.
Q: Even without Whitney, who is expected out until January after foot surgery, you view the defense as a team strength, correct?
A: I do. We'll go through camp and see where Mark Eaton (recovering from a right anterior cruciate ligament tear) is. Kris Letang, a rookie last year, was the right decision. He played almost two months in the AHL before coming up, and he played well for us in his first NHL season. We'll see with (top prospect) Alex Goligoski. Maybe it goes the same way. We have depth in the organization, even with Whitney hurt - seven guys with good NHL experience, and Goligoski. Our depth is a luxury.
Q: Can Goligoski, an offensively gifted defenseman, make this team with a strong training camp?
A: We'll see how Alex does in camp. I want to see it play out, just like with Letang last year. That was the best thing for us and him. He was a better player when he camp up (in November) than when we sent him down after camp.
Q: Letang sat out most of the Cup final in favor of veteran Darryl Sydor. At the same time, his best friend (late Vancouver prospect Luc Bourdon) was killed in a motorcycle accident. Is there any concern about Letang's mental state entering camp?
A: I'm sure he didn't like the way (last season) ended. It was the best thing for the team at the time to play Sydor in the final. (Sydor) did a great job stepping in and playing well. Letang has a really good future here, but I want him to come back and earn his position. But, at the same time, here's a guy that can take more of an offensive role, especially with Whitney injured. I talked to him last year about being more of a force at the point, taking a shot. He can crank it up and be a dangerous weapon for us.
Q: Are prospects Ryan Stone and Jonathan Filewich running out of time?
A: Well, look, it's the fist year they meet waivers. It's an important camp for them, and for us to make decisions. You're going to expose them to 29 other teams. It's a risk as an organization if they don't make the NHL roster, but they have to earn their positions.
Q: What do you look for from this team in training camp?
A: The championship expectations are a little more realistic this season. We are a good hockey team at this point. Last year, people were talking Stanley Cup, and we were a year removed from 57 points. We enter this year with more confidence and can use that to our advantage. But, let's be realistic. This league is difficult and things change. We have to find that chemistry. We want to have a better start than the last few years (15-15-6 in 2006-0 7⁄8-11-2 in '07-08). But we're a hard-working team that is tough to play against. That's what I want our (reputation) to be -- the work ethic.