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Penguins award Shero for sustained success

| Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010

Somebody had to get hockey's plum assignment to build around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who signed a five-year extension through the 2015-16 season Monday, said he was fortunate to be hired to replace Hall-of-Famer Craig Patrick in May 2006.

Maybe it was more a case of the right guy, right place and right time.

Shero, 48, will rank among the top 10 NHL general managers in terms of annual salary, though neither he nor the Penguins would provide financial terms of his new deal. Salaries of his peers are routinely not made public, but the top paid general managers are reportedly Toronto's Brian Burke, Detroit's Ken Holland and Glenn Sather of the New York Rangers -- each at around $3 million annually.

Considering the Penguins will enter his fifth season as a Stanley Cup favorite for the third consecutive year, perhaps Shero should have waited out the season to chase a bigger payday. Then again, that would have been a bit hypocritical for a manager who has kept Crosby and Malkin with the Penguins at less than perceived market value.

Having at least three more seasons with his nucleus -- Crosby, Malkin and fellow center Jordan Staal; defensemen Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek; goalie Marc-Andre Fleury -- Shero can chase the second Cup title that would pull him even with his late father Fred, legendary coach of the Broad Street Bullies' Flyers in the 1970s.

The mantra of those Philadelphia squads was Fred Shero's saying: Win today and walk together forever. Those that have come to know Ray Shero best over the past four years shared these words on his tenure to date:

The free agent he kept

Left wing Matt Cooke heard a lot of talk last season that Shero's stance was not to award contracts of more than two years to a player in his 30s. Cooke, 32, signed a three-year deal to stay with the Penguins a week before the free-agent season opened.

"Every conversation I had with Ray was very respectful. He was very open in telling me what their intentions were. I think it starts before that -- not the day-to-day, because he has other issues going on. But when he's around, the way he's around the guys, is something players notice. I've been fortunate enough to be around three general managers that go above and beyond the job description, guys who make you feel at home and part of the organization."

The scout he trusted

Director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck was hired by Shero four years ago to bring players into the Penguins' system. He was aware that the likes of Crosby and Co. might mean many years of drafting low or not at all, given Shero's willingness to part with picks for players to help the Penguins chase the Cup.

"Ray is a very detailed person. He knows what's going on, but he knows how to delegate. As scouts, we do a lot of back and forth with (assistant general manager Jason Botterill). That's not to say that Ray doesn't know what's going on. He does, and that's because he calls our scouts just to say, 'Hey, how's it going?' Our scouts think that's pretty neat. I can't say so personally, but they tell me that's not the way it was in other organizations."

The agent he called back

Creative Artists Agency's Pat Brisson personally represents Crosby, forward Max Talbot and backup goalie Brent Johnson. His agency also represents Malkin and former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

"He is well informed, prepared, and patient. He listens. But preparation is the thing. He's organized. If he doesn't know something, he lets you know and he will look into it. He's a straight-shooter. Certain (general managers) will sit on a message from an agent for a while. He's always respectful that way, getting back to you fast. I understand I represent some very important players, but that was the same before Ray got to Pittsburgh. He got back to me when he was (assistant general manger in Nashville and Ottawa), too."

The 'Kid' he made captain

Crosby became the youngest captain in NHL history a year into Shero's tenure. Several months later, he was provided with a winger (Marian Hossa) that helped him play for the Stanley Cup, and a year after that a winger (Bill Guerin) who helped him win it.

"It's (the message) you want. Nobody wants to play on a team just trying to get by or squeezing for the playoffs. You want to play for a team that is committed to winning and has that attitude. That starts from ownership, management and Ray. That sends a message every year when he does the things he needs to do to be competitive. We don't take it for granted, but that's why we're all here -- to be a part of that environment, and he's a big part of it."

Sizing up Shero

Beat reporter Rob Rossi on the moves that have shown him the most about general manager Ray Shero, who signed a five-year extension with the Penguins on Monday:

» Keeping Jordan Staal in 2006: The move that showed Shero was about winning. The wise financial play was sending Staal back to Junior and not starting his NHL contract clock. Staal was too good too early, and his Calder Trophy-nominated rookie year helped the Penguins snap a six-year playoff drought.

» Trading for Marian Hossa in 2008: The move that showed Shero was willing to change course. The young Penguins had won one playoff game, and they were slowly building a Stanley Cup contender. However, the Eastern Conference lacked a true favorite, and acquiring Hossa turned the Penguins into that squad in Year 2 of Shero's tenure.

» Firing Michel Therrien/trading Ryan Whitney in 2009: The move that showed Shero was capable of tough calls. The easy move was to stick by Therrien, who signed a new three-year contract the previous offseason. Replacing him with inexperienced AHL coach Dan Bylsma was gutsy. If players needed a reminder that no long-term contract guaranteed a spot with the team, Shero delivered it two weeks later by trading dressing-room favorite Whitney.

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