Pens GM defends team's style of play
Penguins general manager Ray Shero spent Monday meeting with coach Dan Bylsma to discuss upcoming games - not the one Friday night against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum that turned gruesome in the third period, spawned disciplinary action from the NHL on Saturday and sparked majority co-owner Mario Lemieux's critical comments Sunday.
Shero and team CEO/president David Morehouse, as has been the case, will provide the franchise's voices at general managers and board of governors meetings. Shero, himself a hockey dad whose son is dealing with a concussion, will come to March meetings with that perspective.
He spoke yesterday with the Tribune-Review about Friday night, his club's reputation, and how the Penguins go about moving on.
Q: What do you feel would have been suitable discipline handed down by the NHL from Friday night?
A: It's not my job to dole out the punishment. Mario's statement speaks for itself, and he didn't think it went far enough. I agree with him.
Q: What is your response to opinions from within the media that the Penguins, who lead the NHL in penalties and employ controversial winger Matt Cooke, come off as hypocritical with regards to Lemieux's statement?
A: We lead the league in fighting majors compliments of seven (Friday night), six defending ourselves. This is the first year we've been in this position. That last four years we were middle of the pack. When I say "tough team to play against," it's not about fighting. There's not a manager in the league who says he wants his team to be easy to play against.
What transpired on Friday night was not in the context of a hockey game. That wasn't the hockey code as anybody might call it. (The Islanders) were trying to extract revenge, for I don't know what, to be honest. If that's what they wanted to do - listen, tap the guy on the shoulder and say, "Let's go." OK, we answer the bell. These cheap shots, and a shot from behind, to say these guys actually came out to play hockey - I find that hard to believe. That's the disappointment I have.
Q: Does your team have an image problem?
A: No. Not at all. You've written that. You wrote it (Sunday). I don't think it's an issue.
I want to be a blue-collar, hard-working hockey team. We're not a dirty team. OK, Matt Cooke - everybody is saying, "How can you say this and have Matt Cooke?" He gets fined, suspended. In the (Columbus defenseman Fedor) Tyutin case, (Cooke) was talked to by me and the coach. I talked to him after the Savard hit.
Hard-working and aggressive (play) go into the same thing. From our hockey team's standpoint, I think we play with honor. I really do.
Matt Cooke wasn't about Friday night. Friday night was something different.
Q: Does the NHL need to consider eliminating fighting?
A: I don't think what happened Friday night is about getting rid of fighting. The issue with Friday is what happened and how (the Islanders) went about it.
As far as eliminating fighting, that's another conversation. I hope we can continue to clean up these head shots and keep the game safer. The game has evolved, and we've recognized that.
This should make for a lot of conversations at the March GM meetings. All I'm saying is that I want to keep talking about (eliminating head shots) without taking the physicality out of the sport. It's easy to make a blanket statement: no more head shots. But how?
Q: What is your opinion of the NHL disciplinary process?
A: The repeat offender comes into play. The player's track record comes into play. I've dealt with (NHL vice president of hockey operations) Colin Campbell a lot since I've been GM. I wouldn't want to have the job, put it that way. It's an almost impossible job to satisfy both teams, both sets of fans. Not one instance comes to mind that I think of where both sides are satisfied.
Q: How involved were you with Mario's statement?
A: I wasn't involved in his statement at all. I wasn't even at the game Friday night. I got a text from somebody that said, "Holy cripe! Did you see that?" I went to the TV and was glued to it. It was a series of emails and phone calls from that point, and your first concern is safety and health of your players. The whole problem with that game for me was that it wasn't one incident, it was a series of incidents. What are (the Islanders) doing• What was the point• I don't get the point.
Q: How do you prevent the events of these past weeks from becoming a distraction as the Penguins push to secure a playoff berth?
A: I think I've read this over the past day or so, but there really are no distractions. We played a game Friday night that got out of control. Our ownership made a statement. We've got 10 players out of our lineup. Is that a distraction• Not to me. We've got adversity. We go through this every year with injuries. It's more adversity than it is distraction.