Analysis: Penguins GM Shero's staff attracts top talent
NEW YORK — Ray Shero's star turn as a general manager is paying off for the Penguins, who possess a hockey operations staff remarkably deep and versatile.
Shero's approach with former player Bill Guerin is only the latest example of how that has come to pass over the years.
Guerin, 40, has not retired from the NHL. However, he doesn't expect to play again, hasn't trained in months and is dabbling in TV.
He is also dabbling in a hockey operations future as an occasional shadow to Tom Fitzgerald, who is in a second season as assistant to the general manager for the Penguins. That position was created specifically for Fitzgerald, as was director of hockey administration for salary-cap whiz Jason Botterill three years prior.
Fitzgerald and Botterill are two of three rising management stars in the Penguins' current hockey operations structure — along with current director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon, formerly the director of professional scouting.
All three men handle responsibilities that extend beyond their current job descriptions. Shero does not believing in pigeonholing employees. Instead, he looks at the potential for versatility when adding to the staff.
This is not only a great way to attract the best young front-office types, but a sharp method for using resources.
At the very least, this is the new-age thinking that first attracted the Penguins to Shero, who replaced Hall of Famer Craig Patrick in 2006. Shero has since cultivated depth in the front office to rival that of his on-ice product.
He has already lost one assistant general manager, Chuck Fletcher, and a minor league head coach, Todd Richards, via promotions by other teams. However, Botterill and Fitzgerald were around to replace Fletcher, and current Penguins coach Dan Bylsma filled Richards' vacated spot.
Opportunity has become a hallmark of the Penguins under Shero.
Fitzgerald was hired as director of player development in 2007. Shero believed he was perfectly suited for the job. He made only one demand to Fitzgerald, then not a full year removed from playing.
"I told Tommy that I expected him to work hard," he said.
Fitzgerald did. Soon, MacKinnon had urged Shero to include Fitzgerald more on the scouting end. Former coach Michel Therrien was game for Fitzgerald joining practices during the 2008 playoff run - a move that paid off for the Penguins when Fitzgerald joined Bylsma's staff a year later.
Guerin couldn't ask for a bettor mentor than Fitzgerald.
The Penguins couldn't have picked a better manager than Shero.
He has made Pittsburgh as much a destination for hockey's best minds as Sidney Crosby has made it a destination for its best players.
By the numbers
Three players began this week on pace for 50-goal seasons: Steven Stamkos of the Lightning (72), and Alexander Semin of the Capitals and Sidney Crosby (59 each). A look at the highest goal-scoring trio since New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 1995:
Mario Lemieux, 69 (Penguins)
Jaromir Jagr, 62 (Penguins)
Alexander Mogilny, 55 (Canucks)
Total : 186 goals
Pavel Bure, 59 (Panthers)
Joe Sakic, 54 (Avalanche)
Jagr, 52 (Penguins)
Total : 165
Jonathan Cheechoo, 56 (Sharks)
Jagr, 54 (Rangers)
*Alex Ovechkin, 52 (Capitals)
Total : 162
*Ilya Kovalchuk (Thrashers) also scored 52 goals
Ovechkin, 65 (Capitals)
Jarome Iginla, 50 (Flames)
Evgeni Malkin, 47 (Penguins)
Total : 162
• Source : 2010 NHL Guide & Record Book
Eye on the enemy
An NHL Insider offers insight on the Penguins' opponents for the week ahead:
Atlanta Thrashers (Home, 7 p.m. Thursday) : "Goalie Ondrej Pavelec was red-hot on a five-game winning streak, stopping 201 of 207 shots. Get in front of him."
Columbus Blue Jackets (Away, 7 p.m. Saturday) : "This new coaching staff has rejuvenated the team, which has improved defensively and plays with an aggressive offensive mindset to take advantage of opposition mistakes."
New Jersey Devils (Home, 7 p.m. Monday) : "They've struggled with their defensive identity of the past. At the start of this week they were a minus-24 in goal differential — unheard of for them."
Penguins share their thoughts on control:
Dan Bylsma : "The first thing that pops into my head is the team knowing how it should play, what to expect, how to do it and going out and performing in that knowledge and with that experience. It's hockey — there are bounces everywhere, referee calls and all different environments — but within that context a team has control over the other elements."
Tony Granato : "It's discipline, just understanding the importance of your actions and thoughts in your play. You instill that with focus, preparation and experience. That doesn't change from when you're a player to when you're a coach."
Todd Reirden : "Being under control is having a plan and seeing it play out. That means you are under control and that you have direction, an idea of a goal you have in mind. You give yourself the best chance of accomplishing that goal by being under control."
Ones to watch
Players to keep an eye on this week:
Alexander Burmistrov, C, Thrashers: A two-way player with good quickness and better skating, he is a skilled first-round pick from the 2010 draft that has Atlanta on its recent surge.
Derek Beassard, C, Blue Jackets : A smooth skater, he is finally having the season up the middle that Columbus expected when it drafted him sixth overall in 2006. He is extremely gifted offensively.
Travis Zajac, C, Devils : A dangerous offensive player, he is a combination of intelligence and patience. His soft hands rival those of any skilled player.
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